Zhang Yufei & Rikako Ikee Share Tearful Hug On 50 Fly Asian Games Podium


A special moment transpired on the podium of the women’s 50m butterfly on the final night of swimming action at the 2023 Asian Games.

First, in the pool, China’s Zhang Yufei got to the wall first, capturing the 50m fly gold in a time of 25.10, a new meet record. Behind her was teammate Yu Yiting who touched in 25.71 while Japan’s Rikako Ikee claimed bronze in 26.02.

For 23-year-old Ikee, this race marked her first individual medal of these Games, adding to the silver she already earned as a member of Japan’s women’s 4x100m free relay. Her bronze also represented her first major international podium finish since having beaten leukemia at the end of 2019.

As a refresher,  it was in 2018 when Ikee became the first woman in history to earn the title of Asian Games MVP, with the then-18-year-old amassing an incredible 6 gold medals, including individual titles in the 50m free, 100m free, 50m fly and 100m fly. Her contribution to her nation’s 4 x 100m free and 4 x 100m medley relays also helped Japan gather gold in those races in Jakarta.

Ikee was also just the fourth swimmer ever to have been named Asian Games MVP, joining the likes of Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima (2002), Korea’s Park Tae Hwan (2006) and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino (2014).

Although there is a stark contrast between Ikee’s outcome at the last edition of the Asian Games and this one, her podium finish in this event brought out the emotions. These Asian Games are a reminder of Ikee’s former self before she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019. She spent the majority of that year in the hospital but remarkably battled back to be strong enough to compete for Japan at the 2020 Olympic Games.

On tonight’s podium, Zhang and Ikee shared a heartfelt hug to commemorate Ikee’s accomplishment.

Zhang said, “I told Rikako, don’t cry, don’t cry. When they announced her name on the podium, I already felt like crying. But I thought to myself, this is a live telecast, I cannot cry. Then I saw her hugging her coach in tears. I could not hold back my tears anymore.”

Ikee said post-race, “I really wanted to win a medal in this event, so although my time wasn’t great, I had decided that my goal this time was to win at least one medal (in the individual event) before going home. I’m really glad I was able to achieve it in the end.” (Sponichi)

Zhang herself is in the MVP running for these Games, with the Olympic multi-medalist having gathered a remarkable 6 gold medals in Hangzhou.

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Fukuoka Gold
2 months ago

Just two awesome swimmers displaying their strength!

2 months ago

Love both of them!! Rikako is such an inspiration, and Yufei is such a star.

2 months ago

Yufei is so easy to root for. She wears her heart on her sleeve, is charismatic, and isn’t afraid to express herself. She also gives every race 100%. She mirrors Sarah Sjostrom in so many ways.

Fukuoka Gold
Reply to  Aquajosh
2 months ago

And just like Sarah, Yufei excels in 50-100-200 free/fly.

2 months ago

Great example of the values in competitive sport at its very best.

2 months ago

Touching moment and great sportsmanship. Rikako has incredible mental strength to be able to keep competing against swimmers that she was beating before the Leukemia struck her. Especially since she is younger than them. Regardless of how far she progresses, people should not forget her incredible talent.

Dolph Kick
2 months ago

Beautiful moment, thank you for sharing!

2 months ago

It must be incredibly tough for Rikako to struggle to compete with swimmers she used to beat, especially since Ikee is younger. That takes incredible mental strength to keep going.

2 months ago

I’m so happy for Rikako Ikee, she deserves this so much

About Retta Race

Retta Race

Former Masters swimmer and coach Loretta (Retta) thrives on a non-stop but productive schedule. Nowadays, that includes having just earned her MBA while working full-time in IT while owning French 75 Boutique while also providing swimming insight for BBC.

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