Ikee claims record five titles at national swimming championships

16 Apr


Sixteen-year-old Rikako Ikee became the first woman to win five titles at the national swimming championships after sweeping the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 butterfly Sunday.

On the final day of the four-day meet, Ikee won the 50 free in 24.57 seconds before taking the 100 fly in 57.39. Through Saturday, the second-year high school student had topped the 100 and 200 free as well as the 50 fly, and met the qualifying standard for this summer’s world championships in all five races she won.

Kosuke Hagino, who won the 200 backstroke on the final day for his fourth victory of the competition, is the only male to have won five national titles in a single meet. Kanako Watanabe and Tomoko Hagiwara had shared the record with four before Ikee’s feat on Sunday.

Japan’s team for the July 23-30 worlds in Budapest will be announced Monday in Tokyo.

“I’m thrilled about this achievement,” Ikee said. “To be able to compete in such tough races, and to become the first woman to accomplish this feat, this meet has been a great experience for me.

“Before the last race in the butterfly, I almost started crying because I was so nervous. I left everything I had in the pool in the end. Compared to last summer, I think I built the stamina to last four days of tough competition.”

Ikee entered a Japan-high seven races at last summer’s Rio Olympics. She will make her world championships debut in Budapest.

“My goal here was to qualify for the worlds and I managed that,” she said, looking back on the nationals. “I need to keep improving step by step toward the summer.

“I tried to keep myself steady emotionally, but I had negative thoughts before the 200 free. I thought I was going to lose then. But I found a way to win five races and I’m at ease now.

“I don’t care which one, but I hope I can win at least once race (at the worlds).”

Yasuhiro Koseki seized a sizzling men’s 200 breaststroke final against world record-holder Ippei Watanabe, whom he held off by 0.42 to win in 2:07.18. Koseki’s time would have been good enough for a gold medal in Rio, and even bettered the Olympic record Watanabe set there (2:07.22).

“It’s a good showing looking ahead to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” Koseki said. “I hope we can show at the worlds the level of Japanese breaststroke swimmers.”

Hagino ended Ryosuke Irie’s 10-year dominance in the 200 backstroke, touching the wall in 1:56.39.

“These four days have been a good experience,” Hagino said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare coming back from the injury, but I managed to compete throughout at the end of the day.”

Reona Aoki held off Satomi Suzuki to win the women’s 200 breast in 2:23.24. Natsumi Sakai defended her 200 backstroke title (2:10.14), but fell short of the worlds qualifying standard.

In the men’s 50 free, Shinri Shioura and Katsumi Nakamura finished in a tie for first (21.97) as both qualified for Budapest, while Yuki Kobori won the 100 fly (51.98).

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