Rikako Ikee Eyes October Return To Racing, COVID-19 Allowing, As Tokyo Sees Surge In Infections

Rikako Ikee lets the media take a peak at her return to practice ahead of a race return in October, pandemic allowing - Photo Courtesy: Kyodo News/Rikako Ikee

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Rikako Ikee, the Japanese butterfly in rehabilitation after battling leukaemia since her diagnosis last year, intends to return to competition in early October, COVID-19 pandemic allowing, she announced today.

The 19-year-old university sophomore – who yesterday was named by a source as a key participant in a special July 23 one-year countdown to the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games -granted the Japanese media access to her practice session today and spoke to a group of reporters for the first time since revealing her diagnosis in February 2019. Ikee, who leaves behind her teenage years on Saturday as she celebrates her 20th birthday, made a date for her race return:

“My current goal is the Japan intercollegiate championships. I’m practicing hard under the belief there will be a tournament. My aspiration as a 20-year-old is to compete in some kind of event, get an accurate read on my current status, and then find more and more ways to get stronger.”

Turning 20 in Japan comes with changed legal status and is celebrated as a coming-of-age cultural milestone.


Rikako Ikee lets the media take a peak at her return to practice ahead of a race return in October, pandemic allowing – Photo Courtesy: Kyodo News/Rikako Ikee

For Rikako Ikee, just being back in the water is worth celebrating given the battle she has just endured. She manages four sessions in the pool plus land work and a weights set each week so far, as part of her rehabilitation following recovery from leukaemia. She is working under the guidance of a new coach, Isamu Nishizaki, her program, she says, similar to that Rio 2016 Japan Olympic team mate Sachi Mochida and others in Nishizaki’s program. Says Ikee, who made her way back to the water in March this year:

“I feel like I’m getting stronger day by day. I think my swimming ability has returned to about the level in my first or second year of junior high school.”

Ikee, who claimed six golds at the 2018 Asian Games and celebrated the Pan Pacific 100m butterfly title that same year, was discharged from the hospital in December after undergoing 10 months of treatment for acute lymphocytic leukemia.

National record holder on butterfly and freestyle, Rikako Ikee made clear that she thinks the delayed Tokyo 2020 games in 2021 are an expectation too soon, too far. Her goal is Paris 2024:

“(The Tokyo Games) were postponed for a year, and it was expected I would compete, but I’m aiming for 2024. I’m hoping to build a solid foundation since I’m no longer tied down by next year’s Olympics.”

As Rikako Ikee Spreads Her Wings Anew, Tokyo Is Tested By New Rise In COVID-19 Infections

The Tokyo metropolitan government today reported further worrying signs of a new spike of COVOD-19 infections in the capital and Olympic city: at 107 coronavirus cases, the largest daily increase in two months, the rise in the daily count topped 100 for the first time since 154 cases were reported in the middle of a nationwide state of emergency on May 2.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has asked people not to visit nightlife districts of the city, where the latest rise in cases appears to stem from among young people. Koike told reporters today:

“We need to be on alert against the further spread of the virus. This is the stage at which we are.”

She urged people to be vigilant and responsible, noting that a return to lockdown would also come at a price:  “When the business suspension request and the state of emergency were in place, people had to put up with it. Nobody would want to experience a similar situation again.”