(ATR) Rikako Ikee, one of Japan’s rising stars ahead of Tokyo 2020, announced today she has been diagnosed with leukemia and is taking time off from the sport for treatment.
Ikee shared the diagnosis on her Twitter page, sending shockwaves through Japanese sport media. She had been training in Australia and had a run of poor results, according to comments from her coach Jiro Miki to Japanese media. A blood test was commissioned to see if Ikee had fatigue, which led to the diagnosis.
ご報告です。 pic.twitter.com/zP2ykLRgCD— 池江 璃花子 (@rikakoikee) February 12, 2019
"I will rest a little and dedicate myself to treatment," Ikee’s statement said. "I will strive to show you an even stronger version of myself. Thank you for your encouragement and warm thoughts."
Ikee qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympics placing fifth in the 100m butterfly, setting a national record in the process.
Then at the 2018 Asian Games, Ikee won the Games’ MVP Award winning six gold medals and two silvers. The six gold medals were a record by a swimmer at any Asian Games.
After her performances in Jakarta, Ikee was considered seriously by many in Japan as one of the potential breakout stars for Japan’s home Olympics.
"I had a lot of international races and I want to go step by step and I will go to more international competition and I get pride in my swims," Ikee said to Around the Rings in Jakarta. "Then I think ‘I can do it’ and I can get medals [at Tokyo 2020]."
Japanese Olympic Committee President Tsunekazu Takeda said in a statement that he was "terribly surprised" to learn of Ikee’s diagnosis.
"As she has set a record by winning six gold medals at the Asian Games and also awarded MVP last year, we were waiting in anticipation for further success in her career," Takeda said in a statement.
"Lead by early detection, I wish for her rest, recuperation, and concentration on treatment. I would like to send my thoughts and look forward for her return with a cheerful smile by her natural inner strength as earliest as possible. "
It is unclear if Ikee will be able to recover in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She is expected to miss the 2019 Japanese national swimming championships during her recovery according to Kyodo News.
Outpouring of Support
Swimmers and other athletes from Japan and around the world expressed shock at Ikee’s diagnosis and offered words of support for the embattled swimmer.
"My eyes are filled with tears when I read the news about my friend [Rikako Ikee] being diagnosed with leukaemia," Sarah Sjostrom, who won the gold medal at Rio 2016 in the 100m butterfly, wrote on Instagram. "Sending all my strength and love to you!"
Kosuke Hagino, who won three medals at the Rio Olympics, told reporters that he was "surprised" to hear of the diagnosis upon returning from a national team swimming camp in Guam. He was quoted by NHK as saying that "I'm going to work hard together" with the national team and Ikee and that it is not the time to talk about giving up dreams of competing in Tokyo 2020.
At time of writing, Ikee’s statement had over 9,500 responses to it, with many coming from leukemia survivors in Japan.
User @38lvd3 replied saying"I also have Leukemia. Ikee is sure to get over it! Let’s do our best together!"
一人じゃない。何より世界トップの水泳選手！白血病も水泳のように強く早く治りますように願ってます。今は辛いけれど治る病気で良かったです。これからも応援しています。一緒に頑張りましょう— ☺︎︎︎︎ (@yousyakasu) February 12, 2019
Japanese soccer player Fumiya Hayakawa released a statement in support of Ikee through his football club Albirex Niigata. Hayakawa was diagnosed with leukemia in April 2016 and had to stop playing football to fight the disease. He returned to the club during the 2018-19 season. He hesitated to speculate about the nature of Ikee’s illness in a statement, but offered encouragement and called on other leukemia survivors to reach out with support as well.
"I would like to cooperate if I can become a force myself; we are [both] athletes and I also want to work hard together," Hayakawa wrote. "The best wishes are not wanting to compare with anyone and I want you to go firmly with [the disease] at the pace of a fighter."
Written by Aaron Bauer
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