Japanese swim queen Rikako Ikee, the poster girl for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, has been diagnosed with leukemia, the 18-year-old tweeted on Tuesday.
According to Masaaki Yoshida, a vice chairman with her corporate sponsor Rennaisance, Ikee is now hospitalized and doctors believe they have discovered the disease at its early stages.
The 18-year-old, who holds multiple national records, made the announcement on Twitter after cutting short her training camp in Australia.
“I still can’t believe it and am in a state of confusion,” said Ikee. “But it’s also a disease that can be fully cured if treated properly.”
— 池江 璃花子 (@rikakoikee) February 12, 2019
Ikee said she will skip April’s national championships, which serve as a qualifier for the world championships, in order to undergo treatment.
“I will rest a little and dedicate myself to treatment,” she said. “I will strive to show you an even stronger version of myself. Thank you for your encouragement and warm thoughts.”
Ikee shot to fame at last summer’s Asian Games in Jakarta, where she was named the first female MVP of the games after becoming the first swimmer to win six gold medals, with all six in record times.
She holds national records over 50, 100 and 200 meters in freestyle, as well as 50 and 100 in butterfly.
“I’m utterly taken back,” said Yasuhiro Yamashita, the Japanese Olympic Committee’s head of development. “She still has great potential, an athlete who could power the world of Japanese sports. The first priority is thoroughly treating this disease.”
Her coach, Jiro Miki said Tokyo 2020 was not entirely out of the question, but Japan Swimming Federation Vice Chairman Koji Ueno said, “We’re not considering any special (qualifying) exemptions for her.”
“I’m told we wouldn’t have been able to discover the disease in ordinary circumstances,” Ueno said. “We were able to find her irregularities because she was swimming. In that sense, we were able to find the disease early.”
Miki said Ikee’s poor results at a meet prior to the training camp led him to believe she might be suffering from fatigue.
Miki admitted had never seen the swimmer struggle as much as she had while training in Australia.
“I had never seen her breathing as heavily as that,” he said.
“We took her to a local hospital to check her blood and heart but decided to return to Japan as quickly as possible to undergo further tests,” Miki stated. “But as for her motivation to beat this disease, I can only bow my head at her determination.”
Ikee stole the headlines from giant Chinese swimmer Sun Yang in Indonesia as she finished with eight medals in total, a haul previously achieved only by North Korean shooter So Gin-man in 1982.