In response to her extraordinary year in the pool, 18-year-old Rikako Ikee has been honored as ‘MVP’ by the Japanese Swimming Federation. The world junior record holder will be honored at a ceremony in January, along with 21 additional athletes selected as ‘Outstanding’, as well as two ‘Excellent’ coaches.
Ikee has been on an upward trajectory since her junior ranks, but 2018 has further solidified the sprint talent as a bonafide international threat on the senior circuit. She kicked off the year domestically by sweeping the sprint fly and free events at the Japan Open in April while establishing new national records across every event along the way. Ikee nabbed the 50m free title in 24.21, the 100m free title in 53.03, the 50m fly title in 25.43 and the 100m fly title in 56.38, with all marks checking as new national standards.
The Renaissance Club athlete continued her domination at May’s Japan Open, where she won the aforementioned same 4 events and lowered her 50m fly national record to 25.25.
Moving on to the Tokyo-hosted Pan Pacific Championships, Ikee busted out the 200m free swim of her life, crushing a mark of 1:54.85 to clinch silver behind Canada’s Taylor Ruck and ahead of America’s freestyle icon Katie Ledecky. Ikee’s head-turning effort registered as a new Japanese National Record, but also as the Asian continental record, a mark which stood through even the prestigious Asain Games.
At those Games, Ikee wrangled up 4 individual titles in her signature sprint free and fly events, while also snagging 4 relay medals representing Japan. With a monster 8 medals in total, including 6 golds in Jakarta, Ikee was named Championship MVP, representing the first female ever to earn the recognition.
High-profile Japanese male athletes among those designated in the ‘Outstanding’ recognition category include sprinters Katsumi Nakamura and Shinri Shioura, 200m breaststroke world record holder Ippei Watanabe, mainstay backstroker Ryosuke Irie, rising 200m freestyler Katshuiro Matsumoto and dynamic duo Daiya Seto and Kosuke Hagino.
For the women, Chihiro Igarashi, Tomomi Aoki, Satomi Suzuki, Reona Aoki, Kanako Watanabe and Sakiko Shimizu are among those being honored in January.
Coaches Takayuki Umehara and Keiko Okuno were designated as ‘Excellent’ by the federation.
You can read the Japanese Swimming Federation’s original announcement here.