Ready for a big splash - Atkinson: This is probably the most important one
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil:
She has broken barriers in the pool and outside of it, and as a standout Jamaican swimmer, Alia Atkinson gets her fourth Olympic Games underway. She knows more than anyone else that the Rio 2016 Games will provide her the best opportunity yet to make another splash.
Four years ago at the London 2012 Games, Atkinson overcame Canadian Tera van Beilen in a race-off to secure her spot in the 100 metres breaststroke final - her first at the Olympic Games. She would end up missing a medal by 47 milliseconds, finishing fourth behind Ruta Meilutyte (Lithuania), 1:05.47; Rebecca Soni (USA), 1:05.55; and Satomi Suzuki (Japan), 1:06.46.
No Jamaican has ever finished higher in swimming at the Olympic Games, but her ambition does not stop there.
Since then, the Jamaican has, however, improved leaps and bounds, becoming one of the strongest swimmers on the international circuit and establishing herself as a serious contender for a medal here.
Atkinson, 27, has kept a low profile since arriving in Brazil, but the spotlight will shine brightly on her when she lines up in her 100m breaststroke heat at the Olympic Aquatic Stadium, with the heats set to get started at 1:56 p.m. (11:56 a.m. Jamaica time).
She is expected to easily advance to the semi-finals, which take place at the same venue at 10:29 p.m. (8:29 p.m. Jamaica time) and book her place in the final.
Only four women have qualified with times faster than her time of 1:05.93, with one of those being Russian Yulia Efimova, who has been barred from competing at the Olympics by the world's aquatics authority, FINA, due to previous usage of banned substances.
The Jamaican's main challenge will come from defending champion Meilutyte, who was 15 when she topped the podium in London.
Meilutyte built on her London gold by breaking the world record a year later, but had the best seat in the house at Atkinson out stretched her to the wall a year later to not only tie her 1:02.36 world record in the event and claim the world title.
POINT OF ARRIVAL
It was a point of arrival for the Jamaican, who also became the first ever black woman to win a world swimming title. She won a bronze medal at last year's Kazan World Championships, and many in the local and international swimming community believe the Jamaican can again create history by making her way on the podium here.
The significance of the possibility is not lost on Atkinson, who labelled these Games her most important.
"This is probably the most important one (Olympic Games), because I have the opportunity to do something special. The one thing I want to do is to know that I swam my perfect race," she said.
"If I come out of the pool knowing that there is nothing that I could have done better, then I would have done what I set out to do. If that gives me a podium finish, then we will all be happy," added Atkinson.
She will also have to keep an eye on 19-year-old Lilly King from the USA, who, over the past year, has been a dominant force on the collegiate circuit and has been rewriting American records for fun.