Having become the first woman to win five titles at the national championships at the tender age of 16, Rikako Ikee has her sights set on more hardware and another 16-year-old at the world championships in Budapest in July.
Ikee, who competed in seven events at last summer’s Rio Olympics, won all her races at the nationals in Nagoya last month, triumphing in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyle as well as the 50 and 100 butterfly.
That feat, unsurprisingly, has many dubbing her as Japan’s biggest hope for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but the youngster is not getting carried away.
“I think there has never been a tournament where I could win so many events. I have a sense of fulfillment,” she told Kyodo News in a recent interview. “(But) it hasn’t sunk in that I’m being called an ace. I’m not at that sort of level yet at all.”
Ikee said she has two clear targets ahead of her trip to Hungary, where she will again compete in five individual races and could also take part in as many as five relays.
“I want to win a medal . . . (and beat Canada’s) Penny Oleksiak. We’re the same age and I was winning when we met at the world junior championships two years ago,” Ikee said of the Rio Olympic 100 free gold medalist and 100 fly runner-up.
Ikee failed to reach the final for the former and finished fifth in the latter in Brazil, but a trip to Europe provides an opportunity to get one over on Oleksiak in the budding rivalry.
“It’s frustrating to see the gap grow bigger so I’ll try to narrow it instead this time,” said Ikee, before she revealed the one distance in which she’s determined to be No. 1.
“I am very persistent in my sprinting, the 50 freestyle is the event I enjoy the most,” she said. “I definitely don’t want to give it to anyone. There’s no room to look around, it finishes in a flash and is the one in which I have to concentrate the most.
“It’s the one in which I can most be in a world of my own.”
Despite all her success, Ikee is looking forward to the adjustments that could bring more success three years down the road, when the Olympics come to her hometown.
“My times will improve considerably while I swim comfortably if I can up my pace and increase my thrust too — even if my stroke tempo remains the same,” she said. “I believe my time won’t improve unless I alter my technique, so hopefully I can make that change in a positive manner.”
“Getting a medal (in 2020) is a goal but more than anything else, I want to go into it with confidence. I want to have the kind of training on a daily basis that (gives me the belief that) I can definitely win.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.