MVP Ikee hungry for sushi and success

Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee with her Most Valuable Player trophy in Jakarta after being named the best athlete at the Asian Games. The 18-year-old was given the award after becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single Asiad.
Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee with her Most Valuable Player trophy in Jakarta after being named the best athlete at the Asian Games. The 18-year-old was given the award after becoming the first woman to win six gold medals at a single Asiad.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JAKARTA • After a record haul of six Asian Games gold medals, Japanese teenage swimming sensation Rikako Ikee, having adhered to a strict athlete's diet, ought to be entitled to more than a few cheat days.

And what would be on her list of foods to indulge in?

"I'm looking forward to eating some barbecued beef and sushi," said the 18-year-old, who was yesterday named the best athlete at the Games, the first woman to win the Most Valuable Player award.

She also hoped the profile of Japanese swimming had been raised ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, adding: "To become the first Japanese to win six golds... it has put Japanese swimming on the map."

She is the first woman to win six golds at a single Games and finished with eight medals in total, equalling the record set by North Korean shooter So Gin Man in 1982.

Ikee captured titles in the 50m and 100m butterfly, 50m and 100m freestyle, 4x100m free and medley relays in a superb performance.

Next up for Ikee, set to be the face of the Olympics in her home country, is a bid for her first world title next year in South Korea.

"I still haven't won a world title so that's my next goal," she said, adding that she was already back in Japan when she was told she had won the MVP accolade.

"I was on the train to Disneyland when my coach called to tell me it might be me and I couldn't stop grinning," she revealed.

"(It) hasn't quite sunk in, but it's something I wanted to win so to win the award is a real honour."

Yasuhiro Yamashita, chief of the Japanese delegation to the Games, yesterday praised Ikee's outstanding performance, which augured well for their medal prospects at their home Olympics.

"With this, the whole (swim) team gained momentum and an atmosphere was created among Japanese athletes to push towards achieving their dreams in various sports events," he said.

"I hope the female athletes would continue to shine at the 2020 Olympics."

He also told a press conference that the achievements of the country's contingent had been "far better than our expectations" after wrapping up their campaign with 205 medals: 75 golds, 56 silvers and 74 bronzes.

Japan overtook South Korea to finish second for the first time in a decade and their gold-medal tally was the country's biggest since the 1974 Teheran Games.

The 61-year-old pledged to carry on the momentum to the Olympics, while setting an ambitious 30-gold target for Tokyo.

"It will be difficult to expect much in 2020 if we stay with the status quo," he said.

"We will not be satisfied with the (Games) achievements, but will make more efforts to connect this to the Olympics."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2018, with the headline 'MVP Ikee hungry for sushi and success'. Print Edition | Subscribe