Swimming World Presents “A Voice For The Sport – Never Give Up: A Show Of Support For Rikako Ikee”

Voice For the Sport Tokyo Olympics pool

A Voice For The Sport

NEVER GIVE UP!

By John Lohn

 

The following statement is hardly controversial: The COVID-19 pandemic has been a nightmare. It has affected the world, causing the loss of lives, and generating financial hardships for families. It has elevated anxiety levels and, for many nations around the globe, there is no concrete answer when this bad dream will end.

During this era in history, it can be difficult to find the proverbial silver lining, especially with the damage wrought. But for a moment, that is what will happen in this space. In several hundred words, we’ll look at something positive to come out of COVID-19, a possibility that might bring a smile or a feel-good sense to the heart.

Had the Olympic Games been held in Tokyo over the summer, their routine four-year cycle not broken by a pandemic, the Games would have been missing a home star. There would have been no Rikako Ikee on any entry list, the dates of the Olympics too early for her to have qualified to represent Japan in the country’s first summer hosting duty since 1964—also in Tokyo.

The story of Ikee is well known in the sport. Coming off a title in the 100 butterfly and a silver medal in the 200 freestyle at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, Ikee was diagnosed in February 2019 with leukemia. In an instant, her promising career was stymied and, worse, her life was threatened by a disease she would have to battle with as much fight as she had ever brought to a race.

For more than a year, Ikee woke up daily to face this new foe, an opponent more daunting than Sarah Sjostrom, Cate Campbell or Katie Ledecky—to name a few of Ikee’s rivals. There were lengthy stints in the hospital, routine nausea from chemotherapy and bouts of frustration. While there were plenty of downtrodden moments, Ikee gradually adopted a different viewpoint on her situation.

“Swimming was always a given to me. I took it for granted,” the 20-year-old said earlier this year. “But now, it’s a miracle just to be sitting here. It’s a miracle I’m alive, and my thought process has changed. At my lowest point, I wanted to die. I felt I was better off dead if I had to go through this kind of pain.

“But looking back on it now, I really regret I ever though that. I don’t think for a second it was good I was ill, but I learned so much from becoming ill. I now know where I stand, how I should live my life. This will be a huge turning point for the rest of my life.”

Following the medals ceremony for the 100 butterfly at last year’s World Championships, the podium placers took a moment to deliver a message to Ikee. Having written on their hands in marker, Maggie MacNeil, Sjostrom and Emma McKeon expressed to Ikee: “Never Give Up.” It was a wonderful show of support from a trio of women who loved racing against Ikee and had forged a bond as competitors.

Now, with the Olympic Games delayed by a year, there is a chance they will be reunited in Tokyo in the summer of 2021. Ikee has been training for several months and, as of the publication deadline for this issue, she was hoping to return to competition in mid-August. With several more months to train before the Japanese Trials, perhaps Ikee can regain the form that once made her one of the world’s elite performers.

If Ikee qualifies to compete at a home Olympics, her story would be one of feel-good tales of Tokyo. It wouldn’t matter where she placed, and if the 2024 Olympics in Paris is a better fit for her Olympic aspirations, fine.

The bottom line is that Rikako Ikee fought through an ordeal no one should be forced to encounter. And if the COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster on almost all fronts, maybe we can look at one aspect of the coronavirus as an opportunity for a young woman who has defined perseverance.

 

John Lohn

Associate Editor-in-Chief

Swimming World Magazine

 

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SW September 2020 Cover - Matt Grevers - Age is Just a Number[PHOTO CREDIT: TAYLOR NATIONS]

 

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Swimming World Magazine September 2020 Issue

FEATURES

010 IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN
by Dan D’Addona
Indiana’s Carmel High School has won the girls’ state swimming and diving championships for 34 straight years, a feat unequaled by any other high school—not only in swimming, but in any other sport.

012 BEST OF THE DECADE (2010-19)
In Swimming World’s first mythical national high school championships to determine the best teams of the last decade, Carmel High School of Indiana won both the girls’ and boys’ competitions.

013 GIRLS’ NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIPS MOCK HEAT SHEET: BEST OF THE DECADE (2010-19)
Times compiled by Bob Klapthor

015 BOYS’ NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL CHAMPIONSHIPS MOCK HEAT SHEET: BEST OF THE DECADE (2010-19)
Times compiled by Bob Klapthor

017 PREP POWER
by Andy Ross
Since Swimming World first began recognizing the top high school teams in the country in 1971, The Bolles School of Jacksonville, Fla., has won 18 national prep school titles—10 boys’, eight girls’. The Bulldogs have also captured 12 combined championships (public and independent schools), with both teams finishing No. 1 six times.

020 THE GOLDEN YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL SWIMMING
by David Rieder
Public schools Santa Clara and Mission Viejo built high school swimming dynasties from the 1960s through the early 1980s. Not only did they dominate high school swimming, but unlike today, they also produced many of the swimmers from that era who competed in the Olympics.

026 STILL CHASING EXCELLENCE
by John Lohn
Matt Grevers does not need to achieve anything more to stamp himself as an all-time great. But even at 35, there is a desire to accomplish more, and there is no reason to doubt Grevers can come through.

029 SUMMER OF SPEED
by John Lohn
Politics interfered at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, preventing South Africa’s Jonty Skinner from competing head-to-head against the USA’s Jim Montgomery in the men’s 100 freestyle. But that summer, they became the first two swimmers to break the 50-second barrier in the event, with Montgomery clocking 49.99 at Montreal, followed by Skinner with a 49.44 at the AAU National Championships three weeks later.

032 THE TROUBLE WITH SPRINTERS (Part 3): GARY HALL JR.
by Bruce Wigo
The theme of this series of articles has been that sprinters are different from other swimmers—athletes who have historically been considered troublemakers by the establishment, but who have been great for the sport. This month’s featured sprinter is Gary Hall Jr.—one of the greatest in Olympic history…but, perhaps, one of the most maligned and misunderstood.

COACHING

038 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: TRUST IN SCIENCE
by Rod Havriluk
Based on the many counterproductive technique elements that are conventional wisdom, it seems logical to ask why there is not a greater acceptance of science in swimming. The purpose of this article is to give swimmers and coaches some very real reasons to trust in science and scientists.

040 SPECIAL SETS: BACK TO BASICS
by Michael J. Stott
While college swimming as we know it faces a roadmap unlike any in recent memory, Coach Eric Skelly of the University of the Cumberlands, Ky. is treating the return to campus and formal practice as business as usual.

043 Q&A WITH COACH SION BRINN
by Michael J. Stott

044 HOW THEY TRAIN TAYLA LOVEMORE
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

036 DRYSIDE TRAINING: MORE CORE
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

046 UP & COMERS: GABI BRITO
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS

008 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

023 DID YOU KNOW? JIM CROW

037 THE OFFICIAL WORD

042 MOMS AT MEETS

047 GUTTERTALK

048 PARTING SHOT