Rikako Ikee, who revealed in February last year she had leukemia, returned to competitive swimming on Saturday in the women's 50-meter freestyle at a meet in Tokyo.
The 20-year-old Japanese swam her first race in nearly 19 months and clocked 26.32 seconds to place fifth overall in the two-day competition at Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Center. Her national record time in the 50 is 24.21.
"I feel like I'm starting a new chapter in my swimming career," Ikee said.
"It's a good way to start," she said.
Ikee also holds Japan records in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle, as well as the 50 and 100 butterfly. She was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2018 Asian Games after winning six gold medals.
Ikee needed to post a time of 26.86 seconds or better to qualify for October's intercollegiate championships, which she has said she is targeting.
"I was extremely nervous, but I still blew past my target (26.86)," she said.
"I recognized many areas for improvement. If I can iron those out, my results will get better in leaps and bounds."
Ikee indicated that one major issue is rebuilding muscle mass lost in her bout with leukemia.
"Even though I'm only swimming the 50, my body stopped moving over the final 15 meters," she said. "Starting now, I need to diligently build up my physical strength."
The meet was organized by the Tokyo Swimming Association to give athletes a chance to compete following the cancellation of so many other meets this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A medal contender for the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics before her diagnosis, Ikee was released after a 10-month hospitalization in December, at which time she said on social media that her goal for an Olympic return is the 2024 Paris Games.
Ikee delivered a speech at an event marking the start of the one-year countdown to the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, calling for the "power of hope" to keep the Olympics on track for July 23, 2021.