• Kyodo

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Leukemia-hit swimming star Rikako Ikee on Saturday played down her chance of competing at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics after she met the women’s 100-meter freestyle entry standard for an April Olympic qualifying meet.

The 20-year-old, who was out of action for 19 months after being diagnosed with the disease in February 2019, clocked 55.35 seconds to place fourth at the Kosuke Kitajima Cup, earning her the right to participate in Japan’s national championships in three months.

In her first competition of the year, Ikee swam 56.16 during a heat at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center to meet the nationals’ entry standard of 56.53. She cut her time by 0.81 second in the final, won by Natsumi Sakai in 54.48.

But Ikee, whose 52.79 is the 100 freestyle national record, emphasized her immediate goal is not Tokyo gold but doing the work needed to get back up to speed.

“This was a painful reminder that competition is unforgiving,” Ikee said. “It’s not about my aiming for the Tokyo Olympics, but focusing on the task at hand, calmly putting in the work in practice.”

Ikee has her sights on winning a medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics following the diagnosis but the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic offered the 2018 Asian Games MVP a window to perhaps aim for an Olympic debut on home soil.

Ikee has increased her weekly training sessions from four to five from the start of the year as she steps up her recovery. But she admitted actual races present a different challenge.

“I felt I was pressing and there were some nerves and I’m not yet used to the racing environment,” Ikee said. “Even though others may say I was ‘so fast, and amazing,’ my understanding of the situation feels different. Going forward I want to have races where I can confidently say ‘That was fast.'”

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