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2017 FEMALE JUNIOR SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: RIKAKO IKEE
After earning an honorable mention in last year’s Swammy Awards, 17-year-old Japanese phenom Rikako Ikee earned her spot as top female junior swimmer in the world for 2017. Firing off national records and World Junior Records in almost every final in which the teen competed, Ikee has filled out her resume with field-crushing swims at both the junior and senior levels.
Ikee kicked off 2017 with impressive post-Rio performances at the Kosuke Kitajima Cup in Tokyo, blasting a national record in the 200m freestyle in a mark of 1:56.33. That hacked over 2 seconds off of her 1:58.49 performance at the 2016 Olympic Games. Showing her versatility, Ikee also racked up a World Junior Record in the 200m IM at that meet, setting the mark at a speedy 2:09.98.
One of the few teenage swimmers who made both her nation’s squads for the World Championships at both the junior and senior levels, Ikee’s highest finish in Budapest garnered her a 6th place finish in the women’s 100m butterfly. Her time of 57.08 was within striking distance of her monster 56.86 produced in Rio last year.
Ikee was much more dominating placement-wise at the World Junior Championships in Indianapolis, however, where she nabbed 3 individual titles, taking the top prize in the 50m fly (25.46), 100m fly (57.25) and 50m freestyle (24.59). All 3 performances resulted in championship records, with the 50m fly also scorching a new World Junior Record.
Not resting on her laurels, the Japanese teen crushed 2 more national records at the FINA World Cup stop in her home city of Tokyo. Ikee earned a mark of 57.75 in the 100m IM and 25.14 in the 50m butterfly, both of which checked-in as a new WJRs.
As it stands right now, 17-year-old Ikee holds the current LCM World Junior Records in the 50m freestyle, 50m butterfly and 200m IM, as well as the SCM World Junior Records in the 50m fly, 100m fly and 100m IM.
With the Tokyo Olympics now less than 1000 days away, Ikee’s trajectory has the teen on a path towards host country glory come 2020.
(in no particular order)
Regan Smith (USA) – A breakout star for the United States at just 15 years of age, Smith raced her way to a gold medal in the 100m backstroke at the World Junior Championships. Her swift time of 59.11 beat out Canada’s Taylor Ruck and claimed a World Junior Record in the process. On the mixed medley relay, Smith outdid herself one further, cracking an opening split of 58.95 to help boost the stars n’ stripes to silver in that event in Indy. Smith also did damage to the individual 200m backstroke, firing off a personal best of 2:07.45 to win gold by well over a second for another championship record.
Li Bingjie (CHN) – At 15 years of age, China’s Li Bingjie already has 3 senior World Championships medals under her belt. In Budapest, the teen freestyle specialist earned silver in the women’s 800m freestyle, followed by bronze in the 400m freestyle event. She was also a crucial member of China’s silver medal-winning women’s 4x200m freestyle relay. Competing at the Tokyo stop of the FINA World Cup Series, Bingjie cranked out a new World Junior Record in the SCM 400m freestyle, registering a new mark of 3:59.14.
Ariarne Titmus (AUS) – Ariarne Titmus has been taking Australian mid-distance swimming by storm, overtaking 2016 Rio Olympian Jess Ashwood as the premier freestyler to keep chasing America’s Katie Ledecky. Surprising the field in Budapest by finishing 4th in the women’s 400m freestyle, Titmus took things to another level at this month’s Queensland Championships, scoring a new Australian National Record in the event. Her time of 4:02.86 checked in as a new NR and personal best to give her momentum heading into next year’s Commonwealth Games Trials.