In a competition where everything is on the line, especially in such a large-scale and prestigious event as the Asian Games, spectators often see the athletes behaving in their most competitive state, even after their respective events have concluded.

But on September 29, the spectators witnessed the opposite as a touching moment transpired before their eyes. The two swimmers, China’s Zhang Yufei and Japan’s Rikako Ikee, shared a hug after the winners were announced.

Zhang Yufei achieved her sixth gold medal in the women’s 50m butterfly final, equaling the meet record set by Ikee Rikako five years ago with a time of 25.10. In second place was Zhang’s team-mate, Yu-Yiting, who clocked 25.71, while Rikako Ikee came in third with a time of 26.02.

This victory was a significant accomplishment for both Zhang and Rikako, with Zhang remaining the most successful gold medalist in the 19th edition of the Asian Games and Rikako achieving her first medal in the event.

Rikako was previously named the MVP in the 2018 edition of the games; however, tragedy struck her life in the following year when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Fortunately, she was able to survive and embark on a new stage in her career as a swimmer. But the journey proved to be difficult as she was met with a number of losses, her most recent being the 2023 World Aquatics Championships, where she qualified for only one final, the 50 m butterfly event.

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Prior to the event, Rikako said in her interview with Olympics.com that she was not feeling her best.

“I feel like I’m at 30 per cent of what I can be,” Ikee said. “It’s a bummer that I’m not as fit as I can possibly be but I want to help out the team anyway I can until the last day of the meet.”

The Moment Zhang Reached out to Rikako

But this proved to be enough as she was able to place third in the event.

With her bronze medal at the Asian Games, this could mark the beginning of another prosperous career for Rikako. During the ceremony, Rikako, who was thrilled to finally make it to the podium, burst into tears. And Zhang, at the sight of Rikako pouring out her emotions, also cried with Rikako.

Zhang then reached out to Rikako and embraced her in an effort to console her and offer her congratulations on her victory.

This beautiful moment between the two swimmers was captured by the cameras and was shared subsequently on X by Hua Chunying, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of China.

“Chinese swimmer Zhang Yufei gave Japanese swimmer Rikako Ikee a big hug after the latter staged an amazing comeback from leukemia at the women’s 50m butterfly final of #Hangzhou #AsianGames. True sportsmanship & friendship shine out.”

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