Following Leukemia Diagnosis, Rikako Ikee Headed to Tokyo Olympics

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Rikako Ikee - Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Following Leukemia Diagnosis, Rikako Ikee Headed to Tokyo Olympics

The official word will come from the Japanese Federation, but it appears that Rikako Ikee is headed to this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, thus writing one of the great feel-good stories the sport has seen.

As the second day of the Japanese Olympic Trials got underway, Ikee posted a time of 57.77 to claim victory in the 100-meter butterfly, her time bettering the 58.18 of Suzuka Hasegawa. Although Ikee’s time falls short of her Federation’s mandated standard of 57.10 for individual qualification to the Olympics, she should be granted a roster spot for Japan’s 400 medley relay.

Ikee’s effort is nothing short of phenomenal and awe-inspiring, as she was diagnosed in 2019 with Leukemia and forced to battle the disease with the same force that made her one of the world’s premier swimmers. As Ikee battled her cancer diagnosis, she received considerable support from the swimming community, including at the 2019 World Championships. At that meet, 100 butterfly medalists Maggie MacNeil, Sarah Sjostrom and Emma McKeon expressed support for Ikee during the medals presentation.

Now, Ikee is likely to see her fellow competitors on deck at the Tokyo Games.

It has been an impressive climb back to elite status by Ikee, whose comeback initially did not target Olympic qualification for this summer. Rather, Ikee merely wanted to see steady progress, with her sights ultimately set on qualifying for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. However, with each competition, the Japanese star looked more formidable and a berth to the Tokyo Games became a possibility.

In the final of the 100 butterfly, Ikee went out in 26.98, just .03 off the pace set by Ai Soma. On the way home, Ikee overhauled Soma, who finished fourth, and split 30.79 to give her the only sub-58 performance in the field. According to the Japan Times, Ikee shed tears of joy following the race.

In other action:

The men’s 100 breaststroke turned out to be a disappointment as none of the finalists earned individual qualification for the Olympic Games. Shoma Sato got to the wall first, but his mark of 59.30 is only good for medley-relay duty. Sato, who will contest the 200 breaststroke later in the meet, was followed by Ryuya Mura in 59.55.

In the women’s 400 freestyle, Olympic nods were earned by Waka Kobori and Miyu Namba, as the women fought to the wall and were separated by only .02 at the finish. Rallying from a .60 deficit with 50 meters remaining, Kobori claimed the title in 4:06.34, with Namba just behind in 4:06.36.

In semifinal competition, reigning World Championships silver medalist Katsuhiro Matsumoto was the lone athlete to go under 1:48 in the 200 freestyle, leading the way into the final in 1:47.61, with Kosuke Hagino next at 1:48.29. Meanwhile, five women went under 1:08 in the 100 breatstroke, paced by Reona Aoki in 1:07.10 and Kanako Watanabe in 1:07.13.

In the 100 backstroke events, Ryosuke Irie (53.40) and Natsumi Sakai (1:00.54) earned the top seeds for their respective finals.

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