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Editorial: Leukemia survivor Ikee's courage inspires Japan as she clinches Olympic spot

Japanese competitive swimmer Rikako Ikee has qualified for the Tokyo Games' medley relay after clinching victory in the women's 100-meter butterfly at the recent national swimming championships, which doubled as an Olympic trial.

    Ikee, who made a miraculous comeback from her battle with leukemia, demonstrated her consistently forward-looking attitude and opened the door for her Olympic participation with her undaunting spirit and tireless efforts.

    Once a Tokyo Olympic gold medal hopeful, Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2019, about 1 1/2 years before the originally scheduled 2020 Games. In a little over two years since then, she made a dramatic comeback.

    Ikee was in hospital for a full 10 months, and her weight dropped by over 15 kilograms. She also struggled with the side effects of chemotherapy. After the swimmer was eventually discharged from hospital, she had little chance to practice properly due in part to the spread of the coronavirus in Japan.

    In a one-year Olympic countdown event in July last year following the games' postponement to this summer, Ikee was appointed to deliver a keynote speech. Some raised questions about employing Ikee, who was still in the midst of her battle with her illness, but she spoke from her heart with her own words.

    "Precisely because hope shines in the distance, I can face forward and keep going, even though it may be tough," Ikee said in her speech, revealing her quiet but firm readiness to compete in the games. The distant hope she mentioned may have been the 2024 Paris Olympics.

    Instead of attempting to turn back to the past when she left spectacular records in international competitions, she opted to start over as a competitive swimmer. She convinced herself that she was at the starting line for a second career as a swimmer, and turned over a new leaf.

    After returning to competition in August 2020, Ikee broke her post-illness personal-best time in every race she participated in. With constant training and a balanced diet to regain weight, the 20-year-old managed to rebuild her muscles gradually. Yet she was not in a state where she could aim for an Olympic berth with confidence.

    After Ikee emerged victorious in the women's 100 butterfly in the latest championships, she choked up with tears, saying, "I thought it would be in the distant future when I would be able to win." Reflecting on her race, she added, "I learned one's efforts will always be rewarded."

    Many people may have been moved by Ikee's hard-fought victory and her comments after the race. Her success was all the more touching because of all that we have endured during the coronavirus pandemic.

    Even though Ikee has secured a spot in the Tokyo Games, she's not in tip-top condition. She takes antiviral agents every day and sees a doctor once every six weeks.

    There are less than four months to go before the Summer Games get underway. We hope Ikee will be able to prepare for competition while taking due care of her own physical condition. From the bottom of our heart, we'd like to cheer on her second career as a competitive swimmer, to which she is taking a natural approach.

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