Japanese swimming star Rikako Ikee got off to a bitter start to her Asian Games campaign Sunday as her 4x100-meter freestyle relay team finished a distant second behind China.

China swept all seven gold medals on offer on the opening day in the pool. Japan's best results were three silver medals -- for Satomi Suzuki in the women's 50-meter breaststroke, Ryosuke Irie in the men's 100-meter backstroke and Ikee's relay at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre.

In the relay final, the day's last event, China clocked 3 minutes, 33.96 seconds, 4.52 seconds ahead of Japan. Hong Kong rounded out the podium 5.14 behind the winner.

Swimming star Rikako Ikee (R, facing camera) and her Japanese teammates react after winning the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay silver medal at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 24, 2023. (Kyodo)

China grabbed the early lead and was never challenged, while Japan had to battle for second place.

Japan was third when Ikee dived into the water, but she reduced the gap with Hong Kong, preparing the way for anchor Rio Shirai to touch second.

"I think I did the best I could considering my physical condition," said Ikee, who went from leukemia diagnosis in February 2019 to competing at the Tokyo Olympics in the summer of 2021.

Japan's Rikako Ikee swims in the women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay final at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 24, 2023. (Kyodo)

"I have more races to come, so I have to consult with my body to make decisions. I haven't thought about withdrawing from the races I've entered. I'm here to compete for my country, but I kind of feel that people around me are worried about me and might keep me from going further," she said.

"I'll just try to recover, take one race at a time and do the best I can."

Ikee was named the MVP of the previous Asian Games in 2018 for snapping up six gold medals in Jakarta at age 18 before her battle with leukemia.

Swimming star Rikako Ikee strikes a pose after winning the silver medal with the Japanese women's 4x100-meter freestyle relay team at the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, on Sept. 24, 2023. (Kyodo)

China had 1-2 finishes in the night session's first four finals, from Zhang Yufei in the women's 200 butterfly to Pan Zhanle, who broke his own Asian record in the men's 100 free with a time of 46.97 seconds.

Japan's Katsuhiro Matsumoto, who took the men's 200-meter freestyle silver at the 2019 world championships, could only manage fifth place in the 100 free.

"China really got stronger, compared with five years ago," Matsumoto said. "But that means Japan can get stronger, too, in five years. I take this current state of affairs seriously and will try to improve further."

At the world championships in July in Fukuoka, Japan could only manage two bronze medals while China picked up five gold in a strong step toward next year's Paris Olympics.

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