Jakarta. Eighteen-year-old Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee became the first female Asian athlete to be named most valuable player at an Asian Games on Sunday (02/09) after she scooped an unprecedented six gold medals in the international multisport event this year.
The six gold medals, earned in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, and 50-meter and 100-meter butterfly events, were achieved in record times. Ikee also won two silver medals.
"I am so happy. I was actually shocked [by the award]," Ikee said after receiving the trophy and $50,000 in prize money.
She is the fourth Japanese athlete to win the MVP title and the second swimmer from that country to receive such award.
Japan won 19 gold medals in swimming alone at the 2018 Asian Games.
Yasuhiro Yamashita, chef de mission of the Japanese contingent, told reporters in Jakarta on Sunday that the country's achievement at this year's event exceeded all expectations.
Ikee won all her individual events – the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle, as well as the 50-meter and 100-meter butterfly – and she was part of the teams that won gold in the 4x100-meter freestyle and 4x100-meter medley relays.
She was also part of the teams that won silver in the 4x200-meter freestyle and mixed 4x100-meter medley relays.
Ikee has set a Japanese record with her six gold medals, exceeding the five Yoshimi Nishigawa won at both the 1970 and 1974 Asian Games.
Before the start of year's Asian Games, Ikee said she hoped to be named most valuable player and follow in the footsteps of Kosuke Kitajima and Kosuke Hagino, who both went on to become Olympic gold medalists two years after receiving the award.
Kitajima won the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke at the 2004 Athens Olympics and Hagino the 400-meter individual medley at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Ikee recently drew attention after breaking several national records. In her Olympic debut in Rio, she finished fifth and set a national record of 56.86 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly – her favorite event.
She set the world's fastest time in the event this season at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Tokyo on Aug. 11, when she finished in 56.08 seconds, exceeding the time of 56.23 seconds Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom clocked in the final of the European Championships a week earlier.