Rikako Ikee qualifies for Tokyo Olympics swimming after leukemia

Rikako Ikee
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Rikako Ikee, the Japanese swim star who spent 10 months hospitalized for leukemia in 2019, qualified for the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, 14 months after saying it was a miracle that she was alive.

Ikee won the 100m butterfly in 57.77 seconds at Japan’s Olympic Trials to earn a spot at least on the nation’s medley relay team. The 20-year-old spoke through tears and sniffles on the pool deck afterward (video here).

“I’ve never thought I’d be able to win the 100m,” the Tokyo native Ikee said, according to a Kyodo News translation. “I thought I could win only in the distant future. But I trained to win, and I was saying to myself ‘I’m back,’ as I entered this race.”

Ikee may also be allowed to swim the event individually at the Olympics, though the Japan federation’s automatic standard time to hit was 57.10. She won the final by .41 of a second after posting the third-fastest time in Saturday’s semifinals.

Ikee is also expected to swim the 50m freestyle and 100m free later this week at trials.

“No matter how unconfident or tough or difficult things are, if you work hard you get rewarded,” Ikee said, according to Olympic Channel. “In the end, I went into the race thinking, ‘I’m home. I belong here.'”

Ikee was a Tokyo Olympic medal contender before her February 2019 diagnosis. Upon being discharged from a hospital in December 2019, she said she hoped to qualify for the Olympics — the 2024 Olympics.

After the Tokyo Games were postponed by one year, Ikee held a lantern with the Olympic Flame in a one-year out event at the Olympic Stadium without spectators on July 23. She returned to competition last August.

“I think my swimming ability has returned to about the level in my first or second year of junior high school,” Ikee said last summer, according to a Kyodo News translation.

Then in December, she began floating the idea of qualifying for Tokyo, according to Japanese media, after clocking a competitive time in the 50m free.

Before her leukemia diagnosis, Ikee won the 100m butterfly at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, the year’s major international meet. She also took silver in the 200m free ahead of Katie Ledecky. She later earned six golds, including four in individual events, at the 2018 Asian Games.

Ikee finished fifth in the 100m butterfly as a 16-year-old at the Rio Olympics.

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12-year-old skateboarders earn medals at world championships

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At the world skateboarding championships, 12-year-olds Chloe Covell from Australia and Onodera Ginwoo from Japan earned silver and bronze medals, respectively, in Sunday’s street finals.

In the women’s event, Covell took silver behind Brazilian 15-year-old Rayssa Leal, who was a silver medalist herself at the Tokyo Games.

Frenchman Aurélien Giraud, a 25-year-old who was sixth in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, won the men’s final in the United Arab Emirates. Ginwoo was third behind Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro.

The top Americans were Olympic men’s bronze medalist Jagger Eaton in sixth and 15-year-old Paige Heyn in seventh in the women’s event.

Nyjah Huston, a six-time world champion who placed seventh in Tokyo, missed worlds after August surgery for an ACL tear.

Up to three men and three women per nation can qualify per event (street and park) for the 2024 Paris Games. World rankings come June 2024 determine which Americans qualify.

In Tokyo, four of the 12 skateboarding medalists were ages 12 or 13.

Japan’s Kokona Hiraki, then 12, won silver in women’s park to become the youngest Olympic medalist since 1936, according to Olympedia.org. Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, then 13, won women’s street and became the youngest gold medalist in an individual event since 1936.

Worlds conclude this week with the men’s and women’s park events. The finals are Saturday.

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Francesco Friedrich, most decorated bobsledder in history, rebounds for 12th world title

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A week after his first major championships defeat in seven years, German Francesco Friedrich returned to his winning ways to close the world bobsled championships on Sunday.

Friedrich’s four-man sled won the world title by 69 hundredths of a second over British and Latvian sleds that tied for silver, combining times from four runs over the last two days in St. Moritz, Switzerland. It marked Great Britain’s first world championships men’s bobsled medal since 1966.

Geoff Gadbois drove the lone U.S. sled in the field, finishing 18th.

Friedrich, the most decorated bobsledder in history, extended his records with a fifth consecutive world four-man title and 12th world championship between two- and four-man events.

Germany swept all four titles at bobsled worlds with four different drivers taking gold.

Friedrich had won 12 consecutive Olympic or world titles before taking two-man silver at worlds last week in St. Moritz, Switzerland. He was dethroned in that event by countryman Johannes Lochner.

Friedrich has been hampered recently by a muscle injury from sprint training in late December. Going into worlds, Lochner had won four consecutive World Cup two-man races, while Hall won the last two World Cups in four-man.

Friedrich, 32, said before this season that he plans to make the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games his final competition. Friedrich and push athlete Thorsten Margis can break the record of four career Olympic bobsled gold medals that they currently share with retired Germans Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske.

The World Cup season concludes with stops in Igls, Austria, and Sigulda, Latvia, the next two weekends.

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