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Japan swimmer Ikee claims clean sweep but misses Olympic spot

TOKYO: Japan’s Rikako Ikee reacts after winning the women’s 50m freestyle final during the Japan National Swimming Championships, which doubles as a qualifier event for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre yesterday. – AFP

TOKYO: Leukemia survivor Rikako Ikee completed a clean sweep of four wins at Japan’s Olympic swimming trials yesterday — but missed out on an individual place at the Tokyo Games. Ikee, who only resumed training in March last year after being diagnosed with cancer in February 2019, won both the 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle to add to the two victories she claimed earlier in Tokyo.

She had already secured her place in Japan’s medley and 4x100m freestyle relay teams for the coronavirus-delayed Tokyo Games going into the final day of the trials, which doubled as Japan’s national championships. But her time of 24.84sec in the 50m freestyle — her only qualifier of the day as the 50m butterfly is not an Olympic event — was not enough to earn her an individual berth at the Games. “I wanted a better time, but the most important thing was that I won my fourth title, so I’m very happy,” said Ikee, who had insisted before the trials that she was focusing on the Paris Games in 2024.

“I wasn’t sure what the result was going to be right up until the race, but as soon as I came out to the pool, I was determined to win,” she added. Ikee was named MVP of the 2018 Asian Games after claiming six golds and two silvers, and was expected to be one of the stars of the Tokyo Games. But she was hospitalized for around 10 months after being diagnosed with leukemia, and only resumed competing in August last year.

She won the 50m butterfly at the Tokyo Open in February to claim her first victory since her comeback. And she capped it off at this week’s trials by winning the 100m butterfly and booking her spot on Japan’s medley relay team. She went on to win the 100m freestyle to claim a place in the 4x100m relay team, but thought about dropping out of the 50m events after suffering fatigue.

Now she is determined to “make a contribution to the relay team” when the Games begin this summer. “Once I decided to compete, I knew I had to do it properly,” she said. “I’ve got a few months to go before the Olympics, and I think I can build up some strength before then.” – AFP


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