Ikee secures 2nd relay berth with 100 free title

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rikako Ikee swims in the women’s 100-meter freestyle final on Thursday in Tokyo.

Rikako Ikee will be even busier at the Olympics that she never thought she would be swimming at.

Ikee, still less than a year into her return to competition after recovering from leukemia, won the women’s 100-meter freestyle at the Japan swimming championships on Thursday, earning her a berth in a second relay event at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Ikee, who hit the turn marginally in second place, quickly pulled away in the second half to win in 53.98 seconds. Natsumi Sakai finished second in 54.32 and Chihiro Igarashi third in 54.33.

As fourth-place finisher Rika Omoto clocked 54.36 to also finish below the Olympic qualifying time of 54.42 set by the Japan federation for forming a 4×100 freestyle relay, Ikee and the other three will swim that event at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Before the race, I wondered if I could get into the top four and beat the qualifying time, particularly in this event,” Ikee said in a post-race TV interview. “I swam all out from the preliminary rounds. In the final I was aiming for the 53-second range, and I’m happy I did it.”

Ikee, the Japan record-holder in the event, fell short of the Olympic qualifying standard of 53.31 for the individual 100 freestyle.

On Sunday, the 20-year-old Ikee won the 100 butterfly to secure a place on the 4×100 medley relay team at the Tokyo Olympics.

It was a stunning achievement, given that she had previously said that when it came to the Olympics, her eyes were on Paris 2024, not Tokyo. Her appearance at this year’s national championships was her first in three years.

Ikee announced in February 2019 that she had been diagnosed with leukemia. After undergoing treatment, she began the long road back to recovery, and only returned to competition last summer.

Seto completes double

In another high-profile event, 2019 world champion Daiya Seto completed the men’s individual medley double by edging rival and Rio Olympic silver medalist Kosuke Hagino in a thrilling 200-meter final.

Seto, winner of the 400 medley on Saturday, took the lead in the final freestyle leg and won in 1:57.41, touching just .02 ahead of Hagino and setting up a possible Olympic showdown between the two.