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Rikako Ikee wins again at Japan Swim Trials, set to compete on first day of Tokyo Olympics

Rikako Ikee

Japan’s Rikako Ikee reacts after winning the women’s 100m freestyle final during the Japan National Swimming Championships, which doubles as a qualifier event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on April 8, 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, won her second event of her nation’s Olympic Trials and is now set to splash on the first full day of competition of the Tokyo Games.

Ikee won the 100m freestyle at trials, four days after winning the 100m butterfly. Her winning time in the 100m free on Thursday -- 53.98 seconds -- did not meet her federation’s automatic qualifying time to race the individual 100m free at the Olympics (53.31, the time required to make the 2019 World Championships final), but she is qualified for the 4x100m free relay.

“I’m happy to have come below 54 seconds, but I wanted a little faster time, honestly speaking,” Ikee said, according to Kyodo News. “This event was all about getting in the top four and bettering the required standard.”

The Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. Ikee is a prime candidate for a significant role (flag bearer, oath taker, cauldron lighter) if she takes part, though the world’s top swimmers often are absent if they’re competing on the first weekend of the Games.

The 4x100m free preliminary heats are the night of July 24. The eight-nation final is the morning of July 25. Japan’s best-ever Olympic finish in the event is fifth.

On Sunday at trials, Ikee won the 100m butterfly in 57.77 seconds, earning a medley relay spot. Like in the 100m free, no swimmer met the federation’s automatic qualifying time for an individual Olympic 100m fly place (57.10, the cutoff to make the 2019 Worlds final).

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

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 fly at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, the year’s major international meet, in a national record 56.08. 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 fly as a 16-year-old at the Rio Olympics.

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