Rikako Ikee Makes First Public Appearance Since Leukemia Diagnosis

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Rikako Ikee made an appearance at the College Swimming Championships in Tokyo. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2018 Pan Pacs gold medalist and Japanese superstar Rikako Ikee made her first public appearance on Friday since being diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year. Ikee was in attendance at the College Swimming Championships in Tokyo, cheering for her Nihon University teammates in attendance.

Ikee, 19, was wearing a face mask and sitting with other teammates watching the meet. According to Kyodo News, Ikee was feeling well enough to attend the meet and her management agency said she had a strong desire to see her teammates compete.

Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia in February, a devastating blow to the 19-year-old’s chances at World Championships gold in 2019 and also hindered her preparations for a home Olympics in 2020. Ikee would have been a gold medal favorite this summer in the 100 fly after she had the fastest time in the world in 2018 with a 56.08 to win the Pan Pacific Championships last summer. Despite not being present at the championships in Gwangju this summer, world record holder Sarah Sjostrom came up with the idea to send a message to her Japanese rival while on the podium alongside fellow medalists Emma McKeon of Australia and Maggie MacNeil of Canada.

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Emma McKeon, Maggie MacNeil and Sarah Sjostrom send a shoutout to rival Rikako Ikee at the World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

“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 in Gwangju.

Ikee resumed light exercise in June and is hoping to get back on form next year.

Ikee was the Pan Pac Champion in the 100 fly in 2018 and was also third in the world rankings last year in the 200 free with a 1:54.85. Even without Ikee on the roster for the World Championships, the Japanese team lowered the national record in the women’s 4×100 free relay and placed seventh in Gwangju. But missing Ikee really showed for Team Japan, who would have been medal favorites in the mixed medley relay and the women’s medley and 4×200 free.

Ikee will be 20 next summer, and is hoping to get healthy to qualify for her second Olympic team next summer in Tokyo.

To see photos from Ikee at the meet in Tokyo, click here.

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