TOKYO • Japanese swim queen Rikako Ikee, the poster girl for next year's Tokyo Olympics, has been diagnosed with leukaemia, the 18-year-old tweeted yesterday.
In a shock announcement, she said: "After feeling unwell, I returned in haste from Australia and following tests I was diagnosed with leukaemia. I still can't believe it myself, I'm in a state of confusion."
Ikee shot to fame at last year's Asian Games, where she captured a record six golds and two silvers to fire a warning for the 2020 Olympics in her home city. The teenager has been tipped to push for gold on several fronts, in particular in the 100 metres butterfly.
She told fans she was determined to beat her illness after being forced to abandon her training camp on Australia's Gold Coast.
"If treated properly, it's a disease that can be beaten," said Ikee, who confirmed she will withdraw from the Japanese championships in April and is also in doubt for the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea in July.
"I will devote myself to my treatment and strive to be able to show an even stronger Rikako Ikee."
Her coach Jiro Miki admitted that he had never seen the swimmer struggle as much as she had while training in Australia.
"We took her to a local hospital to check her blood and heart, but decided to return to Japan as quickly as possible to undergo further tests," he said.
"But, as for her motivation to beat this disease, I can only bow my head at her determination."
He added that the "possibility was not zero" for Ikee to still have a chance of competing in Tokyo.
After her breakout performance at the Asian Games, Ikee said she welcomed the pressure to produce on the world stage next year,
Japanese swim officials were left stunned by the news.
"I could never imagine Ikee could suffer an illness like this," said Japan Swimming Federation vice-president Koji Ueno.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS