Japanese all-star swimmer Rikako Ikee was on track to become a 2020 Olympic favorite after her stunning performance at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games and her rapid progress in the years after.
All of that changed in February 2019 when she was diagnosed with leukemia. But now, just over two years later, the athlete has shocked both herself and the world with a powerful turnaround that’s earned her a spot in the Tokyo Olympics.
At the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, Rikako was ready to become a superstar. She wowed audiences with two silvers and six different gold medal-winning performances.
Among her triumphs was the 100-meter butterfly, which she completed in 56.08 seconds, a season record that crept close to the world record of 55.48 seconds.
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After proving she was “one to watch” in the world of swimming, her cancer diagnosis proved to be a major setback. Fortunately, she pulled through!
While she was recovering from her illness, Rikako finally returned to training in March 2020. Her eyes were set on the 2024 Paris Olympics, as she assumed the Japan Olympics were no longer within her reach.
But by Japan’s national championships at the new Tokyo Aquatics Center in April 2021, Rikako gave everyone a shock!
To earn a place on the Olympic women’s 4×100 medley relay team, she needed to hit a time of 57.92 seconds or less in the 100-meter butterfly. Not only did Rikako pull it off, but she also dominated the competition in 57.77 seconds!
“I was not expecting to win the 100 meters at all, and I was feeling far less confident than during the Olympic qualifiers five years ago,” she told ESPN.
Ultimately, she proved herself wrong and scored a victorious spot in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics!
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to win for a long time,” Rikako said. “But I trained hard to win. And, in the end, I came into the race telling myself I’m back. And so I feel that, even if you go through suffering and pain, your hard work will always be rewarded.”
Her hard work has certainly paid phenomenal dividends! In total disbelief and pure joy, Rikako emerged from the pool in tears, barely able to speak.
“I wanted to try to feel true happiness just being here,” she added. “My teammates cheered me on, sending me off (to the race). And so I am now filled with happiness.”
So are we! Congratulations, Rikako! We’re wishing you all the best on your Olympic journey, and we’re so thankful for your moving example of bravery and determination!
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