One of the best in Caribbean history – Atkinson’s former coach
Veteran developmental swim coach, Lynval Lowe, who helped to nurture the talent of Alia Atkinson, has revealed that he regards his former charge "as one of the best swimmers in local and Caribbean history".
He had no doubt that the athlete, who he worked with between age 7-11, would become a world beater and break international swimming barriers.
Speaking to The Gleaner in a telephone interview, Lowe said Atkinson is more than a local champion.
"One of the best. I know we used to have Andrew Phillips, who went to the Olympic Games, was fifth overall in the Olympics, which was very great. No Jamaican, Caribbean swimmer was able to achieve that in that times, but when you look on Alia, look at the world record that she equalled the other day," the coach reasoned.
Phillips qualified for the men's swimming Olympic finals in 1984, while Janelle Atkinson, no relation to Alia, also made the finals for Jamaica in 2000 and 2004 and just missed out on a medal after placing fourth.
Alia has been making waves in the swimming pool, hoping to win Jamaica's second non-athletics medal at the Olympics.
"When you work with somebody, you can't take the praise for where they are at now, but you can feel good about the start that you gave that person," underlined Lowe.
Atkinson is the first ever black woman to win a World swimming title and shares the world record of 1:02.36 in the women's 100m breaststroke with Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania.
"I am grateful to see that a person that I have been working with from around seven years of age is on the Olympics stage and competing with the world. She is up there with all the elite countries and sixth in the world, based on where she is positioned right now," he pointed out yesterday.
He recalls that Atkinson, now 27 years old, was a class above many of her young rivals. He even considers some of her exploits then to be out of reach of current swimmers now.
"When I used to coach her, there was a little swimmer who used to compete against her as her main rival.
"The girl had the national record, and I said, 'Alia, this is what you need to do to break back that record', and then I talked to her about it, and we did all the national preparations to get the record and Alia went on to that block, and when the starter said go, that record was gone," recalled the coach.
She described Alia as a "very aggressive competitor".
She won silver at the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, becoming the first Jamaican swimmer to medal at a global tournament.
"She made swimming become known in Jamaica, a lot of persons name you will call, and people ask who are they, but there is no way you can say Alia Atkinson and they say who is that, so they should cherish it and find some way to show they really appreciate her," stressed her former coach.