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Swimmers at worlds pay tribute to Japanese star with leukemia

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GWANGJU, South Korea (AP) — After receiving their medals, all three world swimming championships 100m butterfly medalists gathered on the top podium spot and raised their palms to the crowd, displaying a message to ailing 19-year-old Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee.

“Rikako never give up” it read, with hearts decorating their palms. Swedish silver medalist Sarah Sjostrom came up with the idea and was joined by surprise Canadian gold medalist Maggie MacNeil, a rising sophomore at Michigan, and Australian bronze medalist Emma McKeon.

Ikee, Japanese’s best female swimmer, announced in February that she has leukemia.

She was the world junior champion in the 100m fly and had the fastest time in the world last year. She is aiming to return in time to compete in the Tokyo Olympics.

“We’re hoping this will show that we’re supporting her and we’re here if she needs anything,” MacNeil said.

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Japanese wrestling legend fails to make world championships, Olympics in peril

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Kaori Icho‘s bid to become the first person to earn individual gold at five Olympics just got tougher.

Icho, already the lone woman to earn individual gold at four Olympics, lost a playoff against fellow Rio Olympic champion Risako Kawai for a world championships spot, according to Japanese media.

It’s the biggest setback of Icho’s comeback after taking more than two years off from competition following Rio.

“Frankly, this is frustrating,” Icho, 35, said Saturday, according to Kyodo News. “Making up for that hiatus was difficult and that has played a part.”

Icho, who won the 58kg class at the Rio Games, and Kawai, the 63kg champ in Brazil, split previous matches in December and June, marking Icho’s first defeat to a countrywoman in 17 years. Kawai moved down in weight for this Olympic cycle and into direct competition with Icho.

Kawai will clinch Japan’s lone available 2020 Olympic 62kg berth if she makes the podium at worlds in Kazakhstan in September. Icho will not try to qualify for Tokyo in another weight class should Kawai succeed, her coach said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

“Now I wait,” Icho said, according to Kyodo. “[Five straight Olympic golds] is a rare feat, something highly out of the ordinary. My desire going forward to attract people to wrestling — either as a competitor or a coach — is unchanged.”

Icho once held a 13-year win streak and owns 10 world championships.

She is already the oldest female Olympic wrestling champion (women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004, Icho’s first Games). By 2020, she will be older than any men’s wrestling champion since Bulgarian Valentin Yordanov in 1996.

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Tokyo Olympic Stadium 90 percent finished

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TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo’s new National Stadium is 90 percent completed with the opening of the Olympics just over a year away.

Media were given a glimpse inside the $1.25 billion stadium on Wednesday. It is located in central Tokyo and will be the scene of the opening ceremony on July 24, 2020. It will also be the venue for track and field and some soccer.

Organizers say they are planning events in December to inaugurate the new stadium, which was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

The new stadium design was first awarded to British architect Zaha Hadid, but eventually the futuristic design was scrapped by the government as the cost soared toward $2 billion.

Organizers say about 45,000 of the 60,000 permanent seats have been installed, and the grass surface should be down by the end of the month. The all-weather track will be installed in August and September.

Including the stadium, Tokyo is building eight new venues for the Olympics. The other 35 venues for the games are defined as “temporary” or older buildings that are being reused, which Tokyo organizers say has saved billions. The other centerpiece for the games will be the Olympic Village for more than 10,000 athletes being built on the edge of Tokyo Bay.

The Summer Olympics don’t come cheaply, and even existing venues need extensive renovation when the Games come to town. Exact costs — what are, and are not Olympic expenses — are difficult to sort out. But Tokyo is spending at least $20 billion to get ready, 70% of which is taxpayers’ money.

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