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'Never give up': Medalists support Japanese swimmer Ikee's battle with leukemia

At the podium for the women's 100-meter butterfly event, a message of support to Rikako Ikee is seen written on the palms of, from left, Emma McKeon, Margaret MacNeil and Sarah Sjostrom, at the world swimming championships in Gwangju, South Korea, on July 22, 2019. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

GWANGJU, South Korea (AP) -- The medal winners of the women's 100-meter butterfly event at the world swimming championships revealed a message of support at the podium for Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, 19, who is currently not competing as she undergoes treatment for leukemia.

    Canada's Margaret MacNeil, a 19-year-old taking part in her biggest international meet so far, upset Sarah Sjostrom in the women's 100-meter butterfly, an event the Swede had won four times. Emma McKeon of Australia came in third place.

    After receiving their medals, the three women gathered on the top podium spot and raised their palms to the crowd, displaying a message to ailing 19-year-old Japanese swimmer Ikee.

    "Ikee never give up Rikako" it read, with hearts decorating their palms. Sjostrom came up with the idea.

    Ikee announced in February that she has leukemia. She was the world junior champion in the 100-meter butterfly and had the fastest time in the world last year. She is aiming to return 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," said MacNeil, who is based in Michigan.

    Turning to discussion of the ongoing world championships, the champion expressed her surprise, "I was really hoping just to get on the podium," MacNeil said, "but getting a gold is just unbelievable."

    Sjostrom started strong, just dipping under her world-record pace in the first lap, while MacNeil was in fifth.

    But MacNeil roared back with the fastest closing lap -- 29.06 seconds -- of the eight-woman final and touched first in 55.83.

    Sjostrom was second in 56.22, denied a record fifth title in the event. Emma McKeon of Australia earned bronze in 56.61.

    "Obviously, I would be more happy with a gold medal," Sjostrom said.

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