Rikako Ikee, who is making her competitive comeback after being diagnosed with leukemia last year, finished fourth in the women’s 50-meter freestyle at Japan’s Inter College Swimming Championships in Tokyo on Thursday.
The 20-year-old clocked 25.62 seconds at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center while returning to the pool for the second time since revealing her cancer diagnosis in February 2019.
Ikee swam her first race in nearly 19 months in late August at a meet organized to give athletes a chance to compete following the cancellation of other meets this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
After Thursday’s race, a tearful Ikee said her comeback has been, in part, driven by her Nihon University teammates, whom she cheered for on the sidelines at last year’s tournament in September when she was temporarily discharged from the hospital.
“I came here with the feeling that I would compete this year no matter what,” she said.
Considered a medal contender for the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics before her diagnosis, Ikee was released after a 10-month hospitalization in December and has said she is targeting the 2024 Paris Games for her Olympic return.
Ikee holds Japan records in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, as well as the 50 and 100 butterfly.
She shot to fame during the 2018 Asian Games, where she won six gold medals and was the first woman to be named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.