JAKARTA - Rikako Ikee created a slice of history while Singapore’s Olympic swim champion Joseph Schooling edged a nail-biter in the 50-meter butterfly at the Asian Games on Thursday.
The irrepressible Ikee propelled Japan to victory in the women’s 4×100 medley relay to equal countrywoman Yoshimi Nishigawa’s five gold medals in swimming at the regional multi-sport event in both 1970 and 1974.
“I feel a bit broken and my body aches,” said Ikee, who can win a record sixth gold in Friday’s 50-meter freestyle. “But the joy I get from winning blows all those thoughts away.
“I’m proud to be an Asian champion, but I want to achieve more,” she added. “I don’t feel pressure Japanese swimmers finished the evening with 17 gold medals, one ahead of China as the fierce rivals head into the final day of the swimming program.
Ikee, who has emerged as one of Japan’s brightest hopes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, crushed the third leg, the butterfly, as the favorite stormed to gold in a new Asian Games record of 3 minute, 54.73 seconds.
Drama followed as China wasdisqualified for an illegal changeover, while South Korea was also thrown out, gifting silver and bronze to Hong Kong and Singapore.
But once again the magic came from Ikee, who has also scooped gold in the 50m butterfly, 100m fly, 100m free and the 4x100m free in a sparkling week.
Also pocketing two silver medals, the 18-year-old matched countryman Kosuke Hagino’s haul of seven at a breakout 2014 Asian Games.
“It’s been a real battle with China,” said Ikee. “I just want to end on a high note tomorrow.”
– Fingertip win –
Schooling, who shocked Michael Phelps in the 100m fly in Rio two years ago to capture Singapore’s first Olympic title in any sport, beat China’s Wang Peng by a fingertip to win the one-lap final in 23.61.
“It was very, very, very close,” said the 23-year-old, who retained his Asian 100m title earlier in the week with a little more to spare.
“I didn’t know who won until the end. I had to look up at the board — I almost couldn’t believe it actually. It feels great, it was another huge week.”