Tokyo Tears As Japanese Star Rikako Ikee Makes Stunning Comeback From Leukemia

COMEBACK KID: Japan's Rikako Ikee (pictured here in training and in action) has made a stunning comeback in the 50m freestyle in Tokyo tonight. Photo Courtesy: Kyodo News/Rikako Ikee

Tokyo Tears As Japanese Star Rikako Ikee Makes Stunning Comeback From Leukemia

A new chapter in the brave new swimming world of Japanese Olympian Rikako Ikee has begun in Tokyo tonight with a stunning comeback swim in a night of relief and tears, just 594 days since being diagnosed with leukemia.

The 20-year-old lined up in her first competitive race back during her remarkable recovery, in the women’s 50m freestyle. She clocked a time of 26.32 to win her heat, finishing an encouraging fifth overall in the Timed Final two-day event at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Centre.

Ikee told Japanese reporters after her swim: “I feel like I’m starting a new chapter in my swimming career…it’s a good way to start.”

While Shintaro Kano reported on The Olympic Channel: “(With 15 metres left) I thought I might have a shot here and I just didn’t want to give in….As an athlete, I didn’t want to lose.”

Swimming in lane three in heat five, Ikee looked noticeably thinner than the rest of the field. But once she leapt off her block, the Rio 2016 Olympian looked surprisingly strong for someone who had not competed for over 19 months. Ikee took just one breath during the race and touched the wall first, 0.44 faster than runner-up Onoda Aoi.

After climbing out of the pool, Ikee took a bow and shed tears of mixed emotions.

“More than my time, I didn’t think I’d finish first. That made me happier than anything,” she said.

The Top Five Times on the night were:

  1. Runa Imai 25.22
  2. Rika Omoto 25.58
  3. Mayuka Yamamoto 25.89
  4. Yuka Moro 26.17
  5. Rikako Ikee 26.32

Ikee’s Japanese National record time stands at 24.21. Ikee also holds Japanese records in the 100 and 200m freestyles, as well as the 50 and 100m butterfly and was named the MVP of the 2018 Asian Games after winning six gold medals.

Ikee (Nihon University) had set her goal time of 26.86 seconds to qualify for October’s Inter Collegiate Championships which she achieved.

The meet was organised by the Tokyo Swimming Association to give athletes a chance to compete following the cancellation of so many other meets this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A medal contender for the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics before her diagnosis, Ikee was released after a 10-month hospitalization in December, at which time she said on social media that her goal for an Olympic return is the 2024 Paris Games.

Ikee delivered a speech at an event marking the start of the one-year countdown to the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, calling for the “power of hope” to keep the Olympics on track for July 23, 2021.

But having been crowned Japanese Swimmer of the Year after winning six titles at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Ikee sought medical treatment after falling unwell during a three-week training camp under renown Australian Olympic coach Michael Bohl on Australia’s Gold Coast, only to discover that she had leukemia.

Finishing sixth in the 100m butterfly at the Rio Games as a 16-year-old, Ikee had been expected to compete for medals at Tokyo 2020.

Ikee withdrew from Japan’s 2019 swimming trials to focus on her treatment, missing the Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, last July.

At the time of her diagnosis Bohl told Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph: “We just couldn’t believe it, everyone is so upset.

“She’s got such a great nature and all the kids in the squad absolutely love having her around and they’ve become very close….they go out and have breakfast together all the time.

“It’s just a real shock and everyone was emotional when they were given the news, so we’re just hoping she can make a full recovery.”

There will no doubt be a tearful reunion next time they all meet on pool deck.


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

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Rich Davis
3 years ago

Fantastic news. From a fellow cancer survivor, you go girl. ❤️

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