More Sports / Swimming

Rikako Ikee honored as Japan's swimmer of the year

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Japan Swimming Federation hosted the annual Aquatics Awards on Monday evening in Tokyo, celebrating achievements by its elite athletes in 2018.

Asian Games MVP Rikako Ikee, who had already been named the swimmer of the year after the conclusion of the 2018 season, did not attend the ceremony as she is currently training in Australia.

The swimming pool belonged to the 18-year-old in 2018. At April’s national championships, Ikee won in four disciplines, breaking national records six times. She racked up four medals — including a gold in the 100 butterfly — at the Pan-Pacific Championships in Tokyo ahead of August’s Asian Games in Jakarta.

The butterfly and freestyle swimmer became the first Japanese athlete to collect six gold medals in one Asian Games, and was named the first-ever female MVP recipient at the competition known as Asia’s Olympics.

“I feel sorry for not being able to attend the awards as I am holding a training camp in Australia,” Ikee told attendees through a video message. “However, I am grateful that I was selected as Japan’s top swimmer. I would like to work as hard as I can this year so I can grow further.”

A total of 21 athletes were chosen as outstanding swimmers at the ceremony, including Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Hagino, Daiya Seto, Yui Ohashi, Ryosuke Irie and Ippei Watanabe.

The 23-year-old Ohashi, 2017’s swimmer of the year, had another successful season in 2018.

“I was given the MVP award last year and selected for the outstanding award this year. I’m so honored,” said Ohashi, who earned gold medals in the women’s 200 and 400 individual medley races at the Pan Pacific Championships.

With a year and a half remaining until the Tokyo Olympics, the 2019 season will be a significant one for swimmers.

Aspiring Olympians will have their eyes on July’s world championships in Gwangju, South Korea, the biggest event on the calendar. Gold medalists at the worlds will be given an automatic berth in the Tokyo Olympics.

Hagino, Japan’s male ace, has performed below expectations in the last two seasons as he struggled to recover from right elbow surgery following the Rio Olympics in 2016.

While he believes that he has still developed in these two years, Hagino wants to make a statement to the swimming world in 2019 as he seeks to finish on top of the 2020 podium.

“The Olympics are next year, so this year will be extremely important,” said Hagino, the gold medalist at the Rio Games in the 400 individual medley. “I wasn’t able to fully compete in 2017 and 2018, so I want to compete more in 2019. And by focusing on every single competition, I believe it will lead to (positive results) in 2020, so I’ll do my best.”

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