Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
In 2018, Rikako Ikee appeared to be on the cusp of establishing herself as one of the best swimmers on the planet.
A record six gold medals at the 2018 Asian Games helped Ikee become the first woman ever to win the MVP award for the entire Asian Games. That same summer, she won 100 fly gold at Pan Pacs and took 200 free silver, beating the great Katie Ledecky by three tenths of a second.
In early 2019, Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia, leading to months of intensive treatment and throwing her swimming future into doubt.
But Ikee is starting to work her way back into swimming’s spotlight. After a year and a half out of competition, Ikee returned in 2020 with a handful of swims. Last week, she had arguably her most notable swim yet: a 24.91 in the 50 free that marked her first time under 25 seconds since the leukemia diagnosis.
For the calendar year 2021, Ikee is the #3 swimmer in the world in the 50 free. Across the 2020-2021 season (stretching back to September of 2020), Ikee still ranks 15th worldwide in the event. At 2019 Worlds, a 24.9 would have made semifinals against the best field on the planet.
Impressive, inspiring, exciting – Ikee’s swim is special on many levels. She’s still just 20, and proving that a return to the world’s elite is much closer than anyone expected after such a long pause from training. But more than just the in-pool impact, Ikee’s swim is good for swimming, because one of the sport’s bright young stars is healthy and back in action.