Swimmer qualifies for Olympics 2 years after leukemia diagnosis

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

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Two years after being diagnosed with leukemia, swimmer Rikako Ikee will now head to the Tokyo Olympics in her home country. 

Rikako Ikee won the 100-meter butterfly event at Japan’s Olympic trials in 57.77 seconds to qualify for the 4X100 medley relay in the upcoming Games. After the race, the 20-year-old pumped her fist and broke down in tears before being hugged by her opponent in a lane next to hers. 

“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,” Ikee said following the race, according to the Associated Press

“I thought I wouldn’t be able to win for a long time. 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.”

SWIMMING-OLY-2020-2021-TOKYO
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.

CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Ikee resumed training in March of last year after spending 10 months fighting cancer in the hospital. Her goal was to prepare for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and downplayed her shot to compete in her home Olympics. 

The 2020 Games in Tokyo, which were delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, will kick off this July.

In February, she told Japanese news channel TV Asahi that she felt lucky just to be alive. 

“It’s a miracle just to be sitting here – it’s a miracle I’m alive,” she said, adding that her diagnosis was a “big turning point in my life.” 

Before her diagnosis, Ikee was a favorite to be a medalist at the Tokyo Games after a successful resume as a teen swimmer. She won six gold medals in 2018 at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, which included the 50- and 100-meter freestyle, and the 50- and 100-meter butterfly. She also won gold in two relays, and added two silvers. She finished sixth in the 100-meter butterfly in the 2016 Rio de Janiero Olympics. 

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