Tokyo - Japanese schoolgirl Rikako Ikee, who melted the
hearts of a nation when she burst into tears on qualifying for the Olympics, is
set to make a big splash in Rio.
Having just turned 16, the butterfly and freestyle
specialist will compete in seven events at next month's Olympics after bursting
onto the scene at last year's junior worlds in Singapore by completing a double
in the 50 and 100 metres butterfly.
Ikee backed that up by becoming the first Japanese woman to
break the 54-second barrier in the 100m freestyle earlier this year before her
emotions bubbled over at the national championships, which doubled up as the
country's Olympic trials.
The Tokyo native, who has been tearing up records for fun
over the past year, added the final touches to her Rio preparations by setting
a new Japanese best in the 50m fly last weekend.
"I really wanted that record," said Ikee, who will
swim the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle along with the 100m butterfly and all
three relays in Brazil. "I'm gradually getting to feel ready for the
Kyoko Iwasaki famously became an overnight media darling in
Japan after the pint-sized breaststroker won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Games
six days after her 14th birthday.
Asked about her own whirlwind rise to fame, Ikee insisted
she was close to top form after suffering something of a let-down after sealing
qualification for the Olympics.
"I felt a bit tired after qualifying," she told
reporters. "But my times have started creeping back up. I want to make
sure I get to Rio in peak condition."
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Ikee won legions of admirers for sobbing uncontrollably at
the national trials, lifting Japanese fans after swim king Kosuke Kitajima had
failed to qualify, signalling the end of his storied career.
"I don't know if I'll be in the position in Rio to feel
that happy or not," Ikee told AFP. "I can't imagine yet what it will
be like there.
"But as long as I can perform to my full potential and
set personal bests, I'll be able to give myself a pat on the back," she
"Even if you're the top swimmer in Japan it doesn't
guarantee you getting into the world's top 10 so hopefully I can make the
finals (in Rio) and take it from there."
Japan will be hoping for a strong showing from its swimmers
in Rio, led by Kosuke Hagino, a gold medal contender in the men's 200m and 400m
individual medley and a decent tip for the podium in the 200m freestyle.
On the women's side, world champion Kanako Watanabe will be
a threat in the 200m breaststroke, although she could be pushed hard by team
mate Rie Kaneto.
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