KYODO – Words of encouragement poured in for swimming star Rikako Ikee on Tuesday after she revealed she had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Ikee, an 18-year-old Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medal hopeful who became the first female athlete to be named MVP at the 2018 Asian Games, is now hospitalized and doctors believe her cancer is at an early stage.
Soccer player Fumiya Hayakawa, who is on the comeback trail with the J. League’s Albirex Niigata after his own two-year battle with leukemia, sent a message of encouragement to Ikee following her announcement.
“Without a doubt, the warmth I received from many people has been a great source of strength,” Hayakawa wrote. “That’s why I have a request for people around me as a person who has experienced leukemia — please give Rikako Ikee a lot of warmth and kindness.”
“I myself would like to offer any assistance I can. As a fellow athlete, I hope we can fight together.”
Swedish swimmer Sarah Sjostrom, a Rio de Janeiro Olympic gold medalist, said on her Instagram account, “My eyes are filled with tears when I read the news about my friend @ikee.rikako being diagnosed with leukaemia.”
“Sending all my strength and love to you!” Sjostrom added, with a photo of Ikee and Sjostrom swimming together. The two trained together in Turkey last fall.
Ken Watanabe, a Japanese actor and leukemia survivor, also posted a message of sympathy on his Twitter account.
“I had the same disease. I think you may be feeling desperate, like ‘Why me?’ ” wrote Watanabe, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 1989.
“Although I know little about the situation surrounding you, I hope you will look forward and take your time getting treatment, believing in today’s medicine and your vital force,” Watanabe said.
The Japan marrow donor registry promotion conference posted a message on its website, saying, “There are various treatments established for leukemia. We hope you will obtain correct information about the disease, receive satisfactory treatment for your future and recover as early as possible.”
Fellow swimmer Yasuhiro Koseki, who won three individual gold medals at the Asian Games in Indonesia last year, said, “I’m speechless,” when asked about Ikee.
Japan Sports Agency chief Daichi Suzuki, a former Olympic swimmer who won a gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Games, said, “Her recovery should be prioritized, with sufficient medical treatment.”
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike also expressed her surprise, saying, “I wish the diagnosis was proven wrong.”
“As a Tokyo native, Ms. Ikee has helped us in various events. We will keep rooting for her and wait in anticipation” for her comeback, Koike said.
Lane to 2020 still open
Ikee’s coach, Jiro Miki, said Tokyo 2020 was not entirely out of the question at a Tuesday news conference, but Japan Swimming Federation Vice Chairman Koji Ueno said, “We’re not considering any special (qualifying) exemptions for her.”
“An extremely difficult path lies ahead, but I hope people will warmly watch over her so she can return to competition at (next year’s) qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics,” Ueno said.
“I’m told we wouldn’t have been able to discover the disease in ordinary circumstances,” he said. “We were able to find her irregularities because she was swimming. In that sense, we were able to find the disease early.”