Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Rikako Ikee qualifies for Tokyo Olympics swimming after leukemia

Rikako Ikee

Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee reacts after winning the 100m butterfly final during the Japan National Swimming Championships, which doubles as a qualifying event for the coronavirus-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics, at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on April 4, 2021. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Rikako Ikee, the Japanese swim star who spent 10 months hospitalized for leukemia in 2019, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, 14 months after saying it was a miracle that she was alive.

Ikee won the 100m butterfly in 57.77 seconds at Japan’s Olympic Trials to earn a spot at least on the nation’s medley relay team. The 20-year-old spoke through tears and sniffles on the pool deck afterward (video here).

“I’ve never thought I’d be able to win the 100m,” the Tokyo native Ikee said, according to a Kyodo News translation. “I thought I could win only in the distant future. But I trained to win, and I was saying to myself ‘I’m back,’ as I entered this race.”

Ikee may also be allowed to swim the event individually at the Olympics, though the Japan federation’s automatic standard time to hit was 57.10. She won the final by .41 of a second after posting the third-fastest time in Saturday’s semifinals.

Ikee is also expected to swim the 50m freestyle and 100m free later this week at trials.

“No matter how unconfident or tough or difficult things are, if you work hard you get rewarded,” Ikee said, according to Olympic Channel. “In the end, I went into the race thinking, ‘I’m home. I belong here.’”

Ikee was a Tokyo Olympic medal contender before her February 2019 diagnosis. Upon being discharged from a hospital in December 2019, she said she hoped to qualify for the Olympics -- the 2024 Olympics.

After the Tokyo Games were postponed by one year, Ikee held a lantern with the Olympic Flame in a one-year out event at the Olympic Stadium without spectators on July 23. She returned to competition last August.

“I think my swimming ability has returned to about the level in my first or second year of junior high school,” Ikee said last summer, according to a Kyodo News translation.

Then in December, she began floating the idea of qualifying for Tokyo, according to Japanese media, after clocking a competitive time in the 50m free.

Before her leukemia diagnosis, Ikee won the 100m butterfly at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, the year’s major international meet. She also took silver in the 200m free ahead of Katie Ledecky. She later earned six golds, including four in individual events, at the 2018 Asian Games.

Ikee finished fifth in the 100m butterfly as a 16-year-old at the Rio Olympics.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!