Alia takes swimming to new levels
LONDON was Alia Atkinson's third Olympic Games but it was also her breakthrough moment and her performance there catapulted Jamaican swimming to a whole new level.
Atkinson first competed in Athens in 2004 and finished 25th in the 200m breaststroke in Beijing in 2008, but as a 23-year-old with college experience under her belt, Atkinson went to a third Olympic Games.
Having tied with Canadian Tera van Beilen for eighth place in the semi-finals of the women's 100m breaststroke, Atkinson was forced to swim off with the North American to decide a spot in the final.
Then-Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica president, Martin Lyn recalls the intensity of the experience.
"At first she was a little almost nervous even though it was her third Olympics but as she progressed she became more and more confident. That came to a head when the swim-off occurred. She was ready to swim but the Canadians wanted to put the swim-off to the next day and we (Jamaican officials) ensured that the swim occurred within hours of the previous swim and because she was so fit and ready she was able to perform and she won the swim off by metres," Lyn told The Gleaner.
The swimmer was supported by members of the Jamaican contingent in the Olympic Pool at the finals in London and they watched as Atkinson came within metres of a bronze medal. She eventually finished fourth
Lyn, who was president of the ASAJ from 2009-2015, said Atkinson's exploits in London helped to attract more interest and sponsors to the sport, as the image of swimming being one for elitists, slowly shifted.
"The popularity of aquatics definitely grew as a result of Alia's performance and more sponsors became aware. It takes more work for us to push sponsorship and to bring up other Alia's in Jamaica and we have in Jamaica which are very many (like her). We have a great programme and I see where we can produce many more Olympians in the pool," Lyn said.
He added that the increased sponsorship helped the association to send Atkinson to events overseas which helped improve her stature as well.
"It (London) was the first time she was swimming against Europeans because she had never been to Europe and we were able to send her to Europe after that which is why she has been able to do so much better," he noted.
Atkinson, now 27, is looking forward to her fourth Olympics. Since 2012 she became the first black woman to win a world title when she set a world record in the 100m breaststroke at the 2014 Short Course World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Atkinson also won a bronze medal in 100m breaststroke and silver in the 50m breaststroke at the Long Course World Championships in Kazan, Russia in 2015.