|At the 2002 |
Pacific Alliance Championships
For the past decade, Richard Ikeda has been one of Canada's very best male gymnasts. A 1996 Olympian, he has travelled the world to represent his country in more international competitions than any other active Canadian gymnast, and at 27 he shows no signs of slowing down.
Born November 27, 1974, in Kamloops, British Columbia, Ikeda was also given a Japanese name, Naokumi, to honour his family heritage. Father Mits assumed his son's coaching duties, immersing Richard, and later his brother Ken, in gymnastics at an early age. Now residing in Abbotsford, the Ikeda family has become something of an institution in Canadian gymnastics, and Mits's coaching prowess has helped establish the Abbotsford Twisters as the dominant force in Canada at this time.
Ikeda's rise the top of Canadian gymnastics came at the height of success of the men's program, allowing him to benefit from the wisdom and experience of the older generation. At the 1990 national championships, Ikeda walked away with the novice title, while Seoul sensation Curtis Hibbert won the senior competition. By 1993 Ikeda had made his first World Championships team - finishing in a tie for 61st place in preliminaries with teammate Kris Burley. A month later, he found a way onto the senior podium at the Canadian Championships, finishing third all-around behind Hibbert and his heir apparent, Alan Nolet.
By 1994, Ikeda's growing reputation, coupled with the imminent retirement of Hibbert, meant the beginning of a hearty international career that sent him travelling the globe. After a second place finish at Elite Canada, Ikeda made his second World Championship team, and headed down under to Brisbane, Australia. There, the 20 year-old impressed the judges with his high bar exercise, earning 14th-place on the event, an impressive result for such a young athlete. Later that year, Ikeda helped Canada to a gold-medal team result at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, while taking home three individual medals and fifth-place all-around. This young man was for real.
|Ikeda at the|
2003 World Championships
Photo by Grace Chiu
By 1995, Ikeda and the rest of the Canadian team were ready for some of the biggest competitions of their careers. After failing to qualify a full team to the 1992 Olympics, the Canadian men had their hearts set on a coveted top-12 finish at the World Championships in Sabae, Japan. After taking home two bronze medals (team and pommel horse) against a tough international field at the Pan American Games earlier in the year, Ikeda had cemented his reputation as one of the key players for Canada heading into the World Championships. Unfortunately, the gritty Canadian team came up just short of Olympic qualification, placing a heartbreaking 14th.
Undaunted, Ikeda pressed on, and was able to turn his disappointment into motivation, making 1996 perhaps the best year of his career. Not only was he crowned the senior national champion for the first time, but Ikeda went on to become only the fourth Canadian man to qualify for an individual apparatus final at a World Championships or Olympic Games when he earned a position in the high bar final at the individual World Championships in Puerto Rico. Ikeda's impressive swing mechanics had always made parallel bars and high bar his best events; now he had made the world take notice. He ultimately finished eighth in the final, after nerves lead to a forgettable routine.
Through the first half of the next quadrennium, Ikeda continued to compete regularly, both domestically and internationally. Although injuries limited his performances at the 1997 and 1998 Canadian Championships, Ikeda regrouped in time for his second Commonwealth Games, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the summer of 1998. There, he performed admirably again, taking home a trio of medals, including a silver on the parallel bars and pommel horse and a bronze with the Canadian team, to bring his career Commonwealth Games medal haul to a mighty seven in total.
Sadly, the year 1999 was unkind to the men's program, and Ikeda had to endure a second missed Olympic opportunity when the men's team finished a disappointing 18th at the World Championships in Tianjin, China. At 24, Ikeda had accomplished so much in his gymnastics career that it was expected by many that he would leave the sport to pursue his education. Yet Ikeda proved his doubters wrong when he continued to compete, not only through the 2000 season, but into 2001 as well. After adjusting to his third Code of Points in his senior career, each more difficult than the last, his gymnastics actually underwent a renaissance of sorts, leading to an improbable second Canadian men's title at the national championships, held in New Brunswick in May, 2001. Next on the calendar were the 2001 World Championships in Ghent, Belgium where Richard competed alongside his brother Ken. A solid effort on all six events contributed well to the team's remarkable 12th place finish, the highest finish by a Canadian men's team at the World Championships since 1985.
The year 2001 ended well for Ikeda, with a bronze medal in the all-around at Elite Canada, which was followed by a three-medal performance at the Jurassic Classic (a duel meet against the USA) in March, 2002. In May, Ikeda had the chance to compete in front of a home-town crowd once again, this time at the Pacific Alliance Championships in Burnaby, B.C. There, Ikeda and his Canadian teammates had a shaky performance, finishing fourth, but Ikeda rebounded with a fifth-place showing on the parallel bars. Just three weeks later, the 27 year-old stunned the Canadian gymnastics community by taking the gold medal at the Canadian Championships once more, this time in a come-from-behind win over former Abbotsford teammate, Golding. Ikeda's successes both in Canada and abroad made him an obvious choice for Canada's 2002 Commonwealth Games team, which were his third. At the Games in Manchester, Ikeda helped the Canadian men's team to a silver medal, moving up one position over the team's 1998 performance, and bringing his Commonwealth Games medal tally to eight.
When asked at the 2002 Pacific Alliance Championships about when he will finally slow down in gymnastics, Ikeda responded emphatically, "Everyone asks me that! I am definitely working towards 2004. I want to be able to help Canada qualify a full team [to the Olympic Games]."
For Richard Ikeda, gymnastics is a work of love. After spending more than two decades in the gym, and enduring all the pain, frustrations, and disappointment that inevitably follow, it would be understandable if he became cynical, or decided to hang up his grips. Yet his boyish affection for gymnastics seems more pervasive than ever, and until it does subside, all of Canada can continue to admire his abilities, both as an athlete, and as the undisputed leader of the Canadian men's gymnastics team.
2003 Update: "King Richard" cemented his status as one of Canada's best-ever male gymnasts by winning his fourth Canadian all-around title at the national championships, held in Saskatoon in May. Finally, in August, Ikeda's dream came true when he and the Canadian men's team survived a two-day, 52-team nail-bighting marathon to finish ninth at the World Championships in Anaheim. Not only did this performance set the record for the best-ever team result by the Canadian men, but it also meant that the Canadians qualified a full team to the Olympic Games for the first time since 1988. Ikeda continues to train and prepare for the meet that he hopes will serve as the culmination of his remarkable career, the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.