Govt's investment in Atkinson pays off - Marsh
Alia Atkinson's historic world record-equalling gold medal performance in the women's 100 metres breaststroke final at the FINA World Short Course Championships in Doha on Saturday is being hailed as a testament of perseverance and validation of the Government's decision two years ago to directly invest in her development and preparation ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Atkinson became the first Jamaican to win a world swimming title when she bettered Ruta Meilutyte to the wall, in the process matching her world record of 1:02.36, to win the 100m breaststroke. Meilutyte was clocked at 1:02.46 for second place as Atkinson improved on her silver medals in the 50m breaststroke in 2012 and 2014 and the 100m breaststroke in 2012.
She also became the first black woman to hold a world short course record since Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands 40 years ago.
In 2012, after an impressive showing by the swimmer at the London Olympic Games - where she finished fourth in the 100m breaststroke - Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced that the Government would commit to helping secure the nearly $20 million needed for Atkinson to prepare for the Rio Olympics.
It is an investment that vice-president of the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ), Alan-Roy Marsh, believes has already been justified.
"I think the president of the Jamaica Olympic Association (Mike Fennell) said it best, that the returns we have gotten from our athletes far surpass the investment made in sports in terms of branding overseas and international recognition," Marsh told The Gleaner.
"That investment (in Atkinson) has probably been paid off many times, when you look at the branding that Jamaica got when she swam through the World Cup series, when she swam at the Commonwealth Games and with her presence there - the Jamaican flag consistently coming up and so on.
"The country has gotten much more out of that in terms of positive publicity and we hope it continues for her and other athletes, particularly those in non-traditional sports," Marsh added.
"As a fan of swimming I am overwhelmed and very happy. As a fan of sport generally, when you see someone work hard and persevere despite all the odds, and then achieve something like this, you understand what sport is all about," Marsh said. "She has been a tremendous ambassador for the sport and tremendous ambassador for Jamaica and the Caribbean and we are extremely happy."
The administrator noted that the ASAJ will be looking to continue capitalising on the increased popularity of the sport as a result of Atkinson's achievements and believes the swimmer has a greater role to play in encouraging wider participation among minorities across the globe.
"Now there are a greater number of black swimmers competing at a high level and I think Alia will continue to play a role in influencing greater participation from different races in swimming," said Marsh.
"What is important for us from a local standpoint is to recognise the achievement from the perspective of the process it takes to get there. It's one thing to talk about her equalling a world record and becoming a world champion, that is remarkable, but it's important to know what is required to get there," Marsh added.
"If you are going to develop any programme, you have to develop the human resources and that human resource is your coaches and that is what we are trying to do in the Swimming Association. We are trying to provide opportunities for our coaches to get exposure at various coaching clinics and so on also working with coaches like Chris Anderson, who coaches Alia and has worked with our programme," he said.
Atkinson and Anderson are scheduled to stage another clinic in the island early next year.
Atkinson failed to qualify for the final of the 200m breaststroke during yesterday's heats in Doha.