Japanese swimming star Rikako Ikee defied the odds and secured an Olympics berth just two years after she was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Ikee won the women's 100-metre butterfly at the national championships on Sunday, less than eight months after she returned to competition.
Ikee pumped her fist and received a hug from the competitor in the next lane after finishing in 57.77 seconds, qualifying for the 4x100 medley relay at this summer's Games.
She then broke into tears and took some time to exit the water having become overcome with emotion at her accomplishment.
“I was not expecting to win the 100 metres at all, and I was feeling far less confident than during the Olympic qualifiers five years ago,” she said.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to win for a long time. But I trained hard to win. And, in the end, I came into the race telling myself I’m back. And so I feel that, even if you go through suffering and pain, your hard work will always be rewarded.”
The 20-year-old Ikee returned to the pool about a year ago but had said her goal was only to prepare for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. She had downplayed her chances for her home Olympics.
She would have been among the favourites in several Olympic races in Tokyo races if she had not fallen ill and faced setbacks.
“I wanted to try to feel true happiness just being here,” she added. “My teammates cheered me on, sending me off [to the race]. And so I am now filled with happiness.”
Ikee won six gold medals in 2018 at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, which included the 50 and 100m freestyle, and the 50 and 100m butterfly. She also won gold in two relays, and added two silvers.
Her time in winning the 100m butterfly in Jakarta was 56.08 seconds, the fastest of the season. She was closing in on the world record held by Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden of 55.48. It remains the world-record time.