At the Japanese National Championships last month, 16-year-old Rikako Ikee became the first female to claim national titles across 5 individual events. Clinching wins in the 50m/100m/200m freestyle races, as well as the 50m/100m butterfly, Ikee has set herself up to race the same 5 individual events at the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. She’ll also most likely make an appearance in all 5 of the Japanese relays.
Speaking with Kyodo recently, Ikee says she ‘has a sense of fulfillment’ regarding her incredible feat in Nagoya. However, the teen dynamo also humbly says, “It hasn’t sunk in being called an ace. I’m not at that sort of level yet at all.”
Looking to Budapest, now less than 70 days away, Ikee has already set her sights on a specific target in the form of Canada’s Penny Oleksiak. “I want to win a medal and beat [Canada’s] Penny Oleksiak,” Ikee tells Kyodo.
“We’re the same age and I was winning when we met at the World Junior Championships 2 years ago. It’s frustrating to see the gap grow bigger so I’ll try to narrow it instead this time.”
In Singapore at the 2015 World Junior Championships, Oleksiak and Ikee played cat and mouse throughout the prestigious competition. Oleksiak struck first, winning silver in the 100m freestyle with a mark of 54.65, while Ikee finished 4th with 54.82 in that same final.
But, Ikee took the top prize in the 50m butterfly in 26.28 to Oleksiak’s silver medal-garnering time of 26.45. Ikee also beat out Oleksiak in the 100m butterfly in a time of 58.28 to Oleksiak’s 58.50.
The times seem almost pedestrian now two years later. Last year, Oleksiak blasted onto the senior international swimming scene in a big way by tying American Simone Manuel for gold in the 100m freestyle in Rio with a monster 52.70 Ikee’s best Rio finish was 6th place in the 100m fly in 56.86.
Oleksiak has been named to Canada’s World Championships roster for the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly events, both of which pit her against Ikee. Currently, Ikee ranks 9th worldwide in the 100m freestyle with her mark of 53.60, while Oleksiak is positioned 13th with her time of 53.84. Ikee also holds a leg up currently in the butterfly race, holding the 2nd fastest mark in the world of 56.89 to Oleksiak’s 57.35.
Ikee’s plan of attack? “My times will improve considerably while I swim comfortably if I can up my pace and increase my thrust too-even if my stroke temp remains the same. I believe my times won’t improve unless I alter my technique, so hopefully I can make that change in a possitive manner.”
In the women’s 50m freestyle where Ikee currently holds the world’s 5th fastest effort of the season in 24.48, she says she ‘doesn’t want to give the event to anyone.’ Of the ferocity of the splash n’ dash event, Ikee says of her racing strategy, “there’s no room to look around, it finishes in a flash and is the one in which I have to concentrate the most. It’s the one in which I can most be in a world of my own.”
Regardless of how things turn out in Budapest, we’ll no doubt be treated to a preview of what may possibly take place in Tokyo come the year 2020.