Rikako Ikee wins again at Japan Swim Trials, set to compete on first day of Tokyo Olympics

Rikako Ikee
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Rikako Ikee, the Japanese swim star who spent 10 months hospitalized for leukemia in 2019, won her second event of her nation’s Olympic Trials and is now set to splash on the first full day of competition of the Tokyo Games.

Ikee won the 100m freestyle at trials, four days after winning the 100m butterfly. Her winning time in the 100m free on Thursday — 53.98 seconds — did not meet her federation’s automatic qualifying time to race the individual 100m free at the Olympics (53.31, the time required to make the 2019 World Championships final), but she is qualified for the 4x100m free relay.

“I’m happy to have come below 54 seconds, but I wanted a little faster time, honestly speaking,” Ikee said, according to Kyodo News. “This event was all about getting in the top four and bettering the required standard.”

The Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. Ikee is a prime candidate for a significant role (flag bearer, oath taker, cauldron lighter) if she takes part, though the world’s top swimmers often are absent if they’re competing on the first weekend of the Games.

The 4x100m free preliminary heats are the night of July 24. The eight-nation final is the morning of July 25. Japan’s best-ever Olympic finish in the event is fifth.

On Sunday at trials, Ikee won the 100m butterfly in 57.77 seconds, earning a medley relay spot. Like in the 100m free, no swimmer met the federation’s automatic qualifying time for an individual Olympic 100m fly place (57.10, the cutoff to make the 2019 Worlds final).

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

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 fly at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, the year’s major international meet, in a national record 56.08. 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 fly as a 16-year-old at the Rio Olympics.

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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”