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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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

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World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the women’s marathon world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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Dmitriy Balandin, surprise Olympic swimming champion, retires

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Dmitriy Balandin, the Kazakh swimmer who pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 Rio Olympics, retired at age 27.

“Today I would like to announce the end of my sports career,” Balandin said last week, according to Kazakhstan’s Olympic Committee. “I am still inspired. A new phase of my life begins. I have a lot of cool projects in my head that will soon be implemented.”

Balandin reportedly has coaching aspirations.

In 2016, he won the Olympic men’s 200m breaststroke out of lane eight as the last qualifier into the final. He edged American Josh Prenot by seven hundredths of a second and became Kazakhstan’s first Olympic swimming medalist.

He followed that up with 11th- and 17th-place finishes in the breaststrokes in Tokyo last year.

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