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Alia Atkinson has real chance for a medal

Published:Saturday | August 6, 2016 | 12:15 AMHubert Lawrence

Thirty-six years and eight Olympics have passed since cyclist David Weller made history in 1980 by winning Jamaica's only medal outside of athletics.

Breaststroke world champion Alia Atkinson dives into the swimming competition as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with a real chance to match Weller with a medal of her own. If she succeeds, she would cement her status as Jamaica's best swimmer of all time.

Four years after Weller finished third in the kilometre event in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Andrew Phillips placed sixth in the 200 metres medley and claimed the distinction of being the first from the land of wood and water to reach an Olympic final in the pool. Freestyler Janelle Atkinson came closer to the podium in Sydney, host city of the Games in 2000. Her brave bid got her to fourth in the 400m free.

Janielle set the pace for Jamaican swimmers during her fine career. She won three Pan-Am Games silver medals in 1999 and two Commonwealth silvers in 2002.

An Olympian at 16, Alia won a swim-off to reach the 2012 Olympic 100m breaststroke final after finishing a tie with another competitor in the semi-finals. Despite that extra race, she still swam brilliantly in the final and just missed a medal. Later in 2012, she won two silver medals in the World Championships.

Expert swim coach Jackie Walters sees the 2012 campaign as a turning point. Alia won her second NCAA title in the 200m breaststroke for Texas A & M University and survived the Olympic semi-final swim-off to reach the Olympic final.

"I don't know if Alia believed previous to the 2012 Olympics," she analysed in a 2015 interview. "You know she believed part way but there wasn't 100 per cent. I believe that she now believes that she can get there."

Now 27, Alia has her own collection of Pan-Am and Commonwealth silver medals. However, she also has the dual distinction of being the first Jamaican to set a world record and become a world swimming champion. She swam into history at the 2014 World Short Course Championships with a time of one minute 02.36 seconds.

At last year's long course World Championships, she collected silver in the 50m breaststroke and bronze in her pet event, the 100m breaststroke.