JAKARTA - Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee became the first female athlete to be named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at an Asian Games on Sunday after the teenager scooped an unprecedented six gold medals in the Jakarta pool.
Only North Korean shooter So Gin-man, who won seven golds and a silver at New Delhi in 1982, has won more titles at one edition of the games, but the 18-year-old Ikee also picked up two relay silvers to match his record tally of eight medals.
All six golds were achieved in Asian Games record times and her achievement was made all the more remarkable as she arrived in Jakarta immediately after the Pan Pacific championships, where she won a gold, two silvers and a bronze.
Ikee, whose gold medal haul is the most for a female athlete at a single Games, was the unanimous choice for the most valuable player award, the Olympic Council of Asia said on the final day of the multi-sport event on Sunday.
“I had heard that for a while there was no MVP award and I felt very sad about that, but there was a re-evaluation and I am very honoured to be able to receive such a wonderful award,” Ikee said after picking up her trophy and a check for $50,000.
“Actually after the swimming competitions, I went back to Japan. I didn’t think I (would have) to come back to Indonesia again. This has been a place with lot of good memories.”
Ikee became the fourth Japanese athlete to win the award since its inception at the 1998 Bangkok Games and can now be expected to shoulder a huge burden of expectations when Tokyo hosts the Olympics in two years.
“There are two more years and I know what I need to do and I will strengthen those points with (the Olympics) in mind,” she told reporters. “I will make effort to make sure that I can perform at my best in my own country.”