Ikee Qualifies in 1st Individual Event for Worlds Since Illness

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rikako Ikee celebrates her victory on the women’s 100 butterfly on Tuesday in Tokyo.

In the latest step forward of her amazing recovery from leukemia, swimming star Rikako Ikee has qualified for a world championships in an individual event for the first time since her diagnosis of the disease in 2019.

Ikee finished first in the women’s 100-meter butterfly at the Japan Swim national championships on Tuesday at the Tokyo Aquatics Center in 57.68 seconds, a time that meets the Japan federation standard for qualifying for this summer’s world championships in Fukuoka.

Ikee, who was in fourth place at the turn, put on a late spurt to finish ahead of Ai Soma in 57.85 and Hiroko Makino in 57.94 in the venue where Ikee competed in relays at the Tokyo Olympics.

Standing on the starting block before the race, Ikee did all she could to boost her confidence, telling herself, “You are Rikako Ikee. If you do your best, there’s no reason for you to lose.”

At the halfway point, she didn’t like her position, but kept her composure and gradually caught up and passed the leader over the final few meters. Her time was her best since returning to competition after her recovery from leukemia.

After hitting the wall and confirming her victory, tears welled up in her eyes as she thrust her fists into the air several times.

“I thought to just believe in myself and go for it,” Ikee said.

In other events, 16-year-old Mio Narita pulled a surprise by beating double Olympic gold medalist Yui Ohashi in the women’s 200 medley. Narita clocked 2:10.91 to edge Ohashi by .09 as both qualified for the world championships.