By Narae Kim
GOYANG, South Korea (Reuters) - South Korea's Jang Mi-ran bid an emotional farewell to weightlifting after a decorated 15-year career when the 'Female Hercules' announced her retirement at news conference in her hometown on Thursday.
The 29-year-old, accompanied by her father, mother and younger sister, struggled to deliver a tearful speech as she said goodbye to a sport that had rewarded her efforts with four world titles, as well as Olympic and Asian Games success.
"After much consideration for the past three months, I have come to the most difficult decision any athlete must face," she told reporters in the city of Goyang, north of Seoul.
"Weightlifting turned a 15-year-old girl, who had no confidence in her appearance and no dreams for the future, into (someone) who ended up being loved by so many.
"I am happy that a growing number of people have more positive opinions of weightlifting because of me."
Jang's crowning moment came when she completed a 'grand slam' with the 2010 Asian Games title in Guangzhou in the over 75kg class, following up her success at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a quartet of world championship victories.
At her peak in her triumphant Olympic year, Jang set world records in the snatch (140kg), clean and jerk (186kg) and for the overall weight lifted (326kg).
However, age and injuries took their toll in recent years and the South Korean struggled to keep pace with emerging lifters such as Tatiana Kashirina of Russia and China's Zhou Lulu.
Last year, her dreams of earning a third straight Olympic medal, she also won a bronze at Athens in 2004, were dashed in London when she could only finish fourth.
The quietly spoken Jang touched the hearts of many of her compatriots when she knelt and kissed the barbell following her final failure, knowing a medal was out of reach.
"The London Olympics is the most memorable moment in my entire career since I never realized until then that so many people were still rooting for me even though I failed to live up to their expectations."
In her post-retirement years, Jang said she would focus on helping young athletes in weightlifting and other fringe sports through the Jang Mi-ran Foundation, which she set up last February.
She also wants to become involved in the International Olympics Committee and will meet IOC President Jacques Rogge when he visits Korea at the end of the month.
"I think being an IOC member will help many things I want to pursue with my foundation," she added.
(Editing by John O'Brien)