After successful six gold medals as MVP of the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, 18-year-old swimmer Rikako Ikee was using excessive and poised for glory on the world stage on the 2020 Olympics in her hometown.
Just a number of quick months later, nevertheless, Ikee discovered herself combating for her life — she was identified with acute lymphocytic leukemia in February 2019. When Ikee disclosed her sickness in a publish on social media, the shock among the many Japanese public was immense.
Here was a younger athlete in her prime and on her approach to possible turning into a world celebrity, stricken with a virulent disease. Ikee’s announcement was front-page information in Japan and on tv.
People may solely shake their heads at Ikee’s dramatic reversal of fortune. It was the type of second that made many younger individuals take into consideration their very own mortality for the primary time. Ikee, a scholar at Nihon University, obtained an unimaginable outpouring of help from fellow athletes and followers.
WATCH | Outpouring of help for Ikee after leukemia analysis:
Ikee, who had finished sixth in the 100-metre butterfly at the 2016 Rio Games as a high-school freshman, said at the time that she hoped to recover after treatment for her illness and return to the pool to swim at the 2024 Paris Olympics. It was clear that even 18 months later she would be in no condition to swim at the Tokyo Games.
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Then, in an absolutely bizarre twist of fate — a once-in-a-century pandemic — Ikee’s timetable was suddenly extended by 12 months. Ikee, who emerged understandably frail from her successful treatment, which included chemotherapy and 10 months in the hospital, played down talk that she would attempt to swim at Tokyo 2020.
Ikee was released from the hospital in January of 2020 and began training again in March. She returned to the pool in late August after nearly 600 days away and won her heat in the 50m freestyle at a Tokyo meet.
Japan national team coach Norimasa Hirai said at the time that he was impressed by what he saw of Ikee in her return.
“Some athletes have lost sight of their goals because the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed,” Hirai told Japan Forward sports editor Ed Odeven. “But for Rikako, overcoming illness and making a comeback indicate that she truly loves swimming.
Hirai felt that Ikee’s return would reverberate far beyond the pool.
“I think her swim not only gives everyone courage, but also shows us many things, such as the significance of continuing to compete and the courage of human beings,” Hirai stated.
The swimming world began stirring at this point.
WATCH | Ikee could be next swimming superstar:
Was it possible that Ikee could actually be fit enough to compete at the delayed Tokyo Olympics?
Ikee’s story was starting to shape up as the kind they make movies about. She added to her legacy by winning four events (50m butterfly, 100m butterfly, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle) at the Olympic trials this April in Tokyo.
Her victory in the 100m free qualified her to participate in the 4x100m medley and 4x100m freestyle relays for Japan at the Olympics.
Eyeing national records
Though her times were not fast enough to qualify her for the individual events at the Games under the Japan Swimming Federation’s rules, Ikee expressed satisfaction after emerging from the pool in tears at the trials.
“I’m thrilled I received 4 titles right here,” stated Ikee, who began swimming at three. “Overall, I assumed my occasions have been superb. I went into these nationwide championships with an angle I did not have previously.”
Ikee’s performances had her thinking about more than victories.
“I feel I’m getting nearer and nearer to breaking the Japan data I’ve,” Ikee said. “Might not occur straight away however I’m getting there.”
Though she won’t be swimming in individual races at the Olympics, Ikee’s mere presence as a member of the relay teams will serve as inspiration for her teammates.
“She might be a really precious member of the nation’s relay squads and the truth that she was capable of earn Olympic qualification in relay occasions is a testomony to her perseverance and pure expertise,” John Lohn, the editor in chief of Swimming World magazine, remarked.
“Missing the time she did whereas battling leukemia, her preliminary aim was to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. But she progressed faster than anticipated and was capable of earn a spot on the crew that may compete on dwelling soil. It was not simply a powerful feat, however heart-warming to see. She has been broadly supported and cheered on by fellow opponents, and her story resonated all over the world.
“Prior to her illness, Rikako rated as one of the world’s elite performers in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly. She has impressive range and, had she not been stricken by leukemia, would have surely competed for individual medals in Tokyo. Based on her progress, she will likely be a factor at the Paris Games.”
Ikee displayed her aggressive streak outdoors the pool again in May when anti-Olympics supporters started sending her messages on social media asking her to drop out of the Games or oppose them as a result of pandemic.
“Even if you want me to oppose [holding the Olympics], nothing I say will change anything,” Ikee wrote in Japanese on Twitter. “I share your desire to emerge from this darkness as quickly as possible, but to put that burden on the shoulders of individual athletes is very tough.”
Ikee went on to elucidate that she was coping with stress attributable to the continuing pandemic attributable to her battle with leukemia.
“I have a chronic illness, and whether the games are held or not, I live every day with the anxiety of possibly [being infected with the coronavirus and] becoming seriously ill,” Ikee wrote.
Olympic spirit on show
Odeven, who has labored in Japan for 15 years, and lined swimming on the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics, famous Ikee’s enchantment is far-reaching.
“Rikako Ikee is one of the most popular Japanese athletes because of her perseverance and determination to overcome leukemia and strive for excellence in the pool,” Odeven remarked. “Ikee’s dedication and hard work resonate with people of all ages.”
When Ikee strains up for her legs within the Olympic relays, it will likely be an emotional second for each her and the legions of followers in Japan and overseas which have watched her comeback.
Pierre de Coubertin, the daddy of the fashionable Olympics, as soon as described his view of the spirit of the Games at this: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
Ikee is a residing instance of this — and her story isn’t over but.
In her ultimate occasion earlier than the Olympics, Ikee and her teammates set a Japanese report within the 200 freestyle relay at a meet in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on her 21st birthday on July 4.
Reflecting on her epic journey over the previous 2-½ years, Ikee succinctly put it in perspective afterward.
“It was really tough,” Ikee commented. “I honestly think it’s good to be alive.”