Thu | Apr 19, 2018

Alia Atkinson making golden strokes

Published:Monday | March 5, 2018 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill

In a sport predominantly considered minor compared to football and track-and-field in Jamaica, swimming has finally been given the recognition it deserves with Alia Atkinson becoming the first black woman and Jamaican to earn a world title.

In December 2014, Atkinson, clocked a tremendous 1.02.36 - the Texas A&M alumna tied Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte's World Record in the 100 breaststroke at the FINA Short Course World Championships in Doha, Qatar. In doing so, Atkinson promoted the sport in Jamaica, across the Caribbean, and in other countries. It was Jamaica's first gold medal for swimming in the World Championships.

"Representing my country is the most important thing for me at this moment. Not only does it help bring about change, but hopefully we can see many more swimmers coming out of Jamaica in the future. I wish to help bring out a smoother transition for the future generation," Atkinson said.

Atkinson, who competed in her first Olympics at just 16 years old, competed in her fourth Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She took eighth-place in the 100-metre breaststroke final and finished with a time of 1.08.10.

Atkinson takes her role in Jamaican swimming very seriously. "I am fuelled to keep reaching new heights. I know there is still some more left in me and I want to make sure that when I do retire, Jamaican swimming has a great foundation to move forward, and that I have no regrets," she said.

2004 Olympic Games

One of Atkinson's first major international championships was at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. At just 15 years old, Atkinson didn't qualify for a semi-final or championship, however. four years later, she once again was selected to Jamaica's Olympic Team in 2008, this time for the 200-metre breaststroke. She finished 25th overall in 2008, making the Beijing Olympics her most successful Games.

In 2012, with two Olympic Games under belt, Atkinson focused on the 100-metre breaststroke. Coming out of the semi-finals, she was tied for eighth with Canadian Tera Van Beilen. The two had a swim-off in which Atkinson took the second spot in the championship. In the outside lane, Atkinson had an impressive swim where she just missed the medal podium with a fourth-place finish.

Among the highlights for Atkinson in 2017 were three gold medals at the FINA Swimming World Cup in Germany. These golds came in the women's 50 m, 100 m and 200 m breaststroke events.

Atkinson also broke the 100-metre freestyle national record at the Florida Gold Coast Senior Championships in Coral Spring last July by winning the event in 55.35 seconds, just three weeks after she became the first Jamaican woman to swim the 100-metre butterfly in under a minute.

Atkinson ended the year ranked number one for short course for both the 50m and 100m breaststroke events and number four for the 200m breaststroke.

"It gives me a sense of accomplishment to know I have made the road smoother. I say that a lot, but it really is hard when you are alone on the world stage and I sincerely wish the future generation does not have to go through any misfortune," Atkinson said.

keisha.hill@gleanerjm.com