An Emotional Emma McKeon Talks About Rikako Ikee’s Remarkable Fightback

HAPPY PLACE: Emma McKeon retreated to the pool after an emotional tribute to her friend Rikako Ikee. Photo Courtesy Hanson Media

It’s an unbreakable bond between two friends, former training partners and a rivalry that goes far beyond the length and depth of a pool so when Australia’s Rio’s Olympic swimming star Emma McKeon spoke of her good friend Rikako Ikee on the Gold Coast today – the emotions overflowed.

On the eve of the Australian Swimming Championships the always-accommodating McKeon was front and centre for the cameras.

And after discussing her preparations and the depth of the fields that have gathered here on the Gold Coast this week and how excited she was to be racing, McKeon was asked about her friend Ikee who trained with her here on the Coast under coach Michael Bohl at Griffith University.

State Open NSW 2021

OFF THE BLOCKS: Emma McKeon inspired by her friend Rikako Ikee. Photo Courtesy: Nina Beilby (Swimming NSW)

And her brave fight with leukemia and her even more remarkable performances to make the Japanese team for this year’s Games after winning four events at the recent Japanese Trials.

Ikee had spent 10 months in hospital after being diagnosed with leukemia in 2019 – her Olympic dreams of a home Games seemingly dashed.

But fighting her way back to health and preparing to swim again at the highest levels and to make the Japanese team is a story of Olympic proportions – an inspiring fight of survival and undying spirit to live and to swim again.

McKeon played her part to inspire Ikee never to give up.


HANDS UP FOR IKEE: Emma McKeon, Maggie McNeil, Sarah Sjostrom – ‘fly aces send heartfelt wishes and pay tribute to the absent Rikako Ikee on the podium at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

With their medals around their necks the placegetters in the 100m butterfly at the World Championships in Gwangju in 2019 – McKeon, Canada’s Maggie MacNeil and Sweden’s world champion and world record holder Sarah Sjostrom sent a message to their dear friend Ikee who under normal circumstances should have been there right with them.

They wrote on their hands “Ikee..never give up…” With Love!

It was an image that went around the world and touched Ikee so much so when asked about Ikee yesterday and what her fight meant to her, McKeon was certainly touched.

“It was so exciting to see Ikee qualify. It’s actually amazing to see her come back from leukemia and make an Olympic team. That would inspire anyone. It gives me tingles right now just thinking about it,” said McKeon, before choking up, the cameras rolling as she fought back tears, unable to continue.

She returned some 10 minutes later apologising as she headed off to her happy place – diving into the pool to reflect on her good friend and the extraordinary fight to live and swim her way back to the highest realms of competition


RETURNING THE LOVE: Rikako sends a message to Sarah Sjostrom after she broke her elbow. Photo Courtesy: @ikee.rikako

Ikee will contest two relays in her home Olympics – the 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley in a story to behold.

Emma McKeon swam up and down the pool for an hour washing away her tears before agreeing to pose for photos – inspired by her friend that she will see in July when the youth of the world arrives in the Japanese capital amidst a global pandemic that still hangs over the world’s greatest sporting event.

The Australian star will start her campaign in earnest on day one of these Championships (The Trials to be swum in Adelaide in June) with the heats of the 200m freestyle tomorrow night (Wednesday) Australian time with the first of four morning finals sessions (to mirror the Tokyo timing) due to start on Thursday (10am local time).

And as the buzz started to build around the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre the girl everyone wanted to see, world champion Ariarne Titmus, arrived and looking a picture as she too plans her comeback after four months away re-habbing a shoulder injury.

She is the name on everyone’s lips a she starts her racing comeback in preparation for those all important Trials.


ARNIE’S BACK: Ariarne Titmus will return to competition in the day one heats of the 200m freestyle. Photo Courtesy:Delly Carr (Swimming Australia)

The women’s 200m freestyle heats will be led by the two-time winner and defending champion, World Championship silver medallist (2019) Titmus (St Peters Western, QLD Coach Dean Boxall) and four-time winner and Rio bronze medalist McKeon (Griffith University, Gold Coast Coach Michael Bohl).

Titmus made her competitive return at the Vorgee Brisbane Senior Metropolitan Championships on March 13 at the Brisbane Aquatic Centre – clocking a very tidy 4:06.53 to win the 400m freestyle before backing up later inn the day with a solid 800m freestyle in 8:32.54 (4:23.73) allaying any fears that she was ready to race here.

It was the first time Titmus had raced since December 13, 2020 when she won the 200m freestyle at the QLD State Championships in 1:55.93 – (the fourth fastest time in the world for 2020) withdrawing from the meet with a shoulder injury which also saw her withdrawal from the Dolphins National Event Camp on the Gold Coast in March.

McKeon won the NSW Open last month in 1:55.56 – sitting third in the world for the first four months of ’21 behind Katie Ledecky (1:54.40) and Yang Junxuan (CHN) 1:54.70.

It will be a competitive field. Throw in Gwangju World Championship 4x200m freestyle relay golden girls Madi Wilson (Marion, SA Coach Peter Bishop) and Brianna Throssell (UWA West Coast Coach Mick Palfrey) and heat swimmers Leah Neale (USC Spartans – University of Sunshine Coast Coach Chris Mooney) and Kia Melverton (TSS Aquatics – The Southport School – Gold Coast Coach Chris Nesbit) and Mikayla Sheridan (USC Spartans – University of Sunshine Coast Coach Chris Mooney) Pan Pac (2018) 4x200m freestyle gold medallist.

Young guns Lani Pallister (Griffith University, Gold Coast Coaches Michael Bohl/Janelle Pallister), Carla Buchanan (Rackley Swimming, QLD Coach Shaun Crow) Mollie O’Callaghan (St Peters Western, QLD Coach Dean Boxall) and backstroking’s new wonder girl Kaylee McKeown (USC Spartans – University of Sunshine Coast Coach Chris Mooney) and it will be a race for the ages…and a perfect way to start what will be an enthralling five days of racing….amidst the tears of joy for a Japanese friend.

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2 years ago

Looking forward to this meet.. although I am very surprised (shocked) that Kaylee McKeown is not listed in the start list for the women’s 200m backstroke.. why???

Gold Coast
2 years ago

Ms. Titmus actually swam a month ago on March 12 and March 13 at the Vorgee Brisbane Senior Metropolitan Championships, 400 Free in 4:06.53 and 800 Free in 8:32.54.