Rikako Ikee Discharged From Hospital After Leukemia Fight; Eyeing 2024 Olympic Games

Rikako Ikee was released from the hospital after her fight with leukemia. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

19-year-old Japanese superstar Rikako Ikee was released from the hospital this week after a long fight with leukemia, the Japanese champion announced via her website.

Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2019 and was forced out of the water this year to fight the disease after coming off a wildly successful 2018 where she was the most decorated athlete at the Asian Games. She also won the 100 butterfly at the Pan Pacific Championships with the fastest time in the world for 2018. Coming into 2019, she would have been a favorite in the 100 butterfly against the likes of Sarah Sjostrom, Kelsi Dahlia and Emma McKeon.

Rikako Ikee said in her note to her fans that she has the goal of participating in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris in less than five years. After missing nearly an entire year of training, a spot on the Tokyo team for a home Olympics in 2020 would be highly unlikely. And even if she were to get on the Japanese team, the chances of her medalling would be slim.

Ikee will be just past her 24th birthday by the time the Paris Olympics roll around in 2024.

Rikako Ikee wrote this in Japanese on her website. When roughly translated, it reads:

To my supporters:

About ten months have passed since I was hospitalized in February. Now I am back home from the hospital. All the encouragement I have received from everyone made me feel that I really want to come home and go back to before though It was tough and long. Period.

I really appreciate everyone who cheered and supported me, people concerned and my family from the bottom of my heart.

I felt nauseous and had sense of fatigue sometime while I was hospitalized. At that time, I cheered myself up by constantly telling myself that “I am OK, I am all right. It will end someday”. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, I had to leave the pool suddenly. Maybe some people think I looked like I lost a lot of things. Instead, I learned many things and there were things that made me think because I became ill. I thought sometime, but I tried to feel strong and underwent treatment. For my future athletic activities, I will start swim training once I get permission from doctor. Until then, I will start from building up basic physical strength and gradually increase the amount of athletic Training.

I will do my best to achieve the goal of participating at the Paris Olympics 2024 and winning medals. I truly thank you for your support.

Despite not being present at the World Championships, Rikako Ikee was still present on the podium of the 100 butterfly in Gwangju, the event she would have been a favorite to take gold in. Sjostrom had the idea of sending a good luck message on her hands alongside other medalists McKeon and Maggie MacNeil after the 100 butterfly medal ceremony.

“It’s just to let her know we are thinking of her and we support and love her,” bronze medalist Emma McKeon said after the race.

The gesture was heard around the world.


Emma McKeon, Maggie MacNeil and Sarah Sjostrom give Rikako Ikee a shoutout on the podium of the 100 butterfly at the 2019 World Championships. Ikee would have been a favorite to win gold but was fighting leukemia all year. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

At her first Olympic Games in Rio, Rikako Ikee was fifth in the 100 butterfly final at 16-years-old. She also finished 12th in the semi finals of the 100 free and did not advance out of the heats in the 50 or 200 free. She won seven individual medals at the 2017 World Juniors with golds in the 50 free and the 50 and 100 fly, as well as silver in the 100 free and bronzes in all three women’s relays.

Her 2018 was even better as she really made her mark on the senior level, winning the 100 butterfly at Pan Pacs in front of a Tokyo crowd and also claimed silver in the 200 free ahead of Katie Ledecky.

Even though she will miss the chance at a home Olympics, the 2021 World Championships will be in Fukuoka, so Ikee has a chance to perform in front of a home crowd on the international stage in two years.