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Leukemia survivor Ikee sets Japanese swimming record on birthday in last race before games

Rikako Ikee celebrates after she and her teammates set a new Japanese record in the women's 200-meter relay, at Sagamihara Green Pool in Sagamihara's Chuo Ward on July 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee, who has overcome leukemia to return to the pool, was left teary eyed on her 21st birthday on July 4, as she and three teammates broke the Japanese record for the women's 200-meter relay and she was greeted with a birthday message on the electronic scoreboard.

    The record of 1:39.67 was set during an event in the city of Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. It was the second day in a row for her and her teammates to mark a new Japanese record.

    A message displayed on the scoreboard read, "Happy Birthday Rikako Ikee."

    A message congratulating Ikee on her 21st birthday is displayed on the scoreboard following the relay on July 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

    "I don't know if I'm the happiest person in Japan or the world, but I truly felt that I'm a happy swimmer," Ikee said.

    Ikee swam in the No. 2 spot for the second day in a row and said she wasn't nervous at all as she powered though the water to complete the 50-meter leg. The mark she and her teammates Chihiro Igarashi, Natsumi Sakai and Rika Omoto set on July 4 was 0.15 seconds faster than the record they set the previous day.

    As Ikee was celebrating with the other swimmers with her back to the scoreboard, the birthday message appeared, and the audience applauded her, creating a celebratory mood at the venue.

    A tearful Ikee is seen on her 21st birthday after the 200-meter relay race at Sagamihara Green Pool in Sagamihara's Chuo Ward on July 4, 2021. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

    After the swim, Ikee looked back on her struggle with leukemia and how her health deteriorated at the age of 19. "It was really tough," she said. When she reached her 20th birthday, she returned to practice, saying she wanted to make the next year a special one, and she was congratulated by her teammates.

    Now approaching the Tokyo Olympic Games with fellow team members, a happy Ikee said, "I honestly think it's good to be alive."

    "I want to have fun in the relay and get into the final with a new Japanese record," Ikee said. "I've decided that I'm not going to lose beyond this year. I want this to link to my future competitive career, so that when I'm 22, I can become the kind of athlete that no one can beat."

    (Japanese original by Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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