Japanese swimmer Ikee back after leukemia treatment

Koji Ueda

TOKYO (AP) – Olympic hopeful Rikako Ikee returned to competitive swimming yesterday after undergoing treatment for leukemia for more than a year.

The 20-year-old from Japan would have been among the favourites in several races if she had not fallen ill and the Tokyo Olympics had taken place on schedule last month.

Ikee’s best event is probably the 100-metre butterfly where she was nearing the world record until becoming unwell.

She marked her return in a 50-metre freestyle heat in a local meet in Tokyo, clocking 26.32 seconds. Her national record time is 24.21.

Ikee won six gold medals two years ago at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. She is not expected to try to qualify for the delayed Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but could target the 2024 edition in Paris.

A month ago she appeared in Tokyo’s new National Stadium where the opening ceremony would have been held. She was part of a brief video message to encourage other athletes to be hopeful the Olympics will take place next year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Local organisers and the International Olympic Committee said the delayed Games will open on July 23, but have given few details how the massive event might be held during a pandemic.

File photo shows Japan’s Rikako Ikee holding up her gold medal after winning the women’s 50m freestyle final during the swimming competition at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. PHOTO: AP