Swim phenom Ikee makes history with 5-title haul

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Rikako Ikee swims to victory in the women's 100-meter butterfly at the Japan Championships on Sunday in Nagoya.

The Yomiuri ShimbunNAGOYA — At the end, super-teen Rikako Ikee was ready to just get it over with and head home. But not without making Japanese swimming history.

Ikee became the first woman ever to capture five titles at a single Japan Championships, completing the set by winning both the women’s 50-meter freestyle and 100 butterfly on Sunday, the final day of the competition at Nagoya’s Nippon Gaishi Arena.

Ikee won the 50 freestyle in 24.57 seconds and the 100 butterfly in 57.39, and while neither topped the Japan records she holds, the results were good enough to qualify her in those events for the world championships, to be held in Budapest in July.

Living up to the pressure as Japan record-holder, the 16-year-old Ikee started off with a victory in the 50 free.

That tied her with Tomoko Hagiwara, who won four titles in 2002, and Kanako Watanabe, who achieved the feat in 2015. The tied record lasted all of about 40 minutes, until Ikee returned to the pool for a victory in the 100 butterfly, the event in which she is strongest in terms of global competitiveness.

“I was so nervous I thought I would cry,” said Ikee, who went out hard from the beginning and turned the race into what seemed more like a solo journey.

The five titles for the second-year high schooler came over a packed four days.

“It felt long but was over before I knew it,” Ikee said. “At the end, my approach was, ‘After just one more race, I can go home.’”

While living up to domestic expectations, Ikee now aims to transfer her success to global waters.

“Until now, my biggest goal was to get to the world championships and the Olympics,” she said. “This year, I will approach my training and meets with the aim of winning a medal.”

In other action Sunday, Kosuke Hagino ended Ryosuke Irie’s 10-year reign in the men’s 200 backstroke, winning in 1:56.39 for his fourth national title in five races that he entered. Both swimmers qualified for the world championships in the event.

In the men’s 200 breaststroke, Yasuhiro Koseki overtook early leader Ippei Watanabe over the final 50 meters to capture his third straight title in 2:07.18 and qualify for Budapest. Watanabe, who was on pace to break his own world record, finished second in 2:07.60.

As Koseki and Watanabe’s times would have been good for the gold and bronze medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, they can be considered among the favorites at the Budapest worlds. Speech

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