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Swimmer Rikako Ikee Reaches Olympics Two Years After Cancer Diagnosis
Only two years after being diagnosed with cancer, Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee achieved a remarkable comeback by qualifying for the 2020 Olympic Games set to be held in Tokyo this summer.
The 20-year-old athlete clinched her spot for the Olympic competition by winning the 100-meter butterfly event at the Japanese national championships on April 4, 2021 at the Tokyo Aquatics Center. The top performer in several races automatically qualifies for the Games.
“I didn’t have words to describe how I felt and I was extremely happy,” Ikee said following her victory. “I recalled all the tough times I went through, but I was thrilled to be able to come back here.”
Days later, Ikee won another race to qualify for another Olympic event.
Doctors told Ikee she had leukemia, a type of cancer affecting blood-forming areas of the body, in February of 2019. Until that point, she was a promising young swimmer who had competed at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Her breakout moment came at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. During this competition, she captured six gold medals and was named the MVP of the event.
After learning the news, Ikee stopped training to focus on treatment and then rehab.
Early on, Ikee told reporters that she expected to skip the 2020 Olympics in Japan, instead focusing on preparing herself for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
When the Tokyo Games were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, Ikee initially downplayed rumors that she could potentially compete in 2021. She started training in the spring of 2020, though, a very short time for an athlete at her skill level.
As she explained after her win in early April, though, Ikee found herself ahead of schedule in her training, allowing her to compete at the national championships. She admitted even she was surprised at how she was able to win a major race like this so quickly after going through treatment.
“I’ve practiced to win,” said Ikee. “And I was like, ‘I’m home’ when I made my entrance before the race. I learned that even if you don’t have enough confidence, your hard work will still pay off for you.”
After her victories at the national championships, Ikee has qualified for the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay and the women’s 4×100 medley relay.
Now Ikee will focus on training for the Olympics, which starts in late July. Whatever happens next, Ikee has achieved one of the first inspirational stories of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Key Words and Expressions
- be diagnosed with — to be recognized as having a disease
- comeback — a return by a well-known person to a former condition or position
- qualify for — to have the right to do something
- promising — showing signs that something or someone is going to be successful
- MVP — an award given to a sports player who has performed best in a match
- focus on — to concentrate on something
- rehab — the process of helping someone return to a normal life after being ill
- ahead of schedule — doing or finishing something earlier than planned
- pay off — to yield a good result
- inspirational — making you feel encouraged and hopeful
Reading Comprehension Test
- In what event did Rikako Ikee win at the Japanese national championships on April 4, 2021?
a. 100-meter freestyle.
b. 200-meter butterfly.
c. 200-meter medley.
d. 100-meter butterfly.
- What was Ikee’s breakout moment?
a. The 2016 Asian Games.
b. The 2018 Olympics.
c. The 2018 Asian Games.
d. The 2018 Japanese Games.
- Choose two events Ikee will compete at the 2020 Olympics.
a. 100-meter butterfly.
b. Women’s 4×100m freestyle relay.
c. 200-meter backstroke.
d. Women’s 4×100m medley relay.
- What was Ikee’s original plan for the Olympics after being diagnosed with leukemia?
- Why was Ikee able to compete at the 2021 Japanese National Championships?