Alia is a big deal - Swimming boss crowns top swimmer after stellar year
Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ) president, Handel Lamey, is throwing full support behind his sport's standard bearer Alia Atkinson, who he is hoping will win her second RJR Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year award next month.
The prestigious annual awards ceremony will be held on January 13 at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston.
Two years ago, Atkinson, 28, won her sport's first national award since Belinda Phillips' 1974 nod.
According to Lamey, the only blemish on Atkinson's high-calibre performances this year was her failure to medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year, but he was quick to underline her impact on the sport both locally and internationally, pointing to her as a worthy candidate.
"I think she is a very strong candidate for this year being that she (equalled the) 100m world record, (set a new) 50m world record and the only thing is that she did not achieve an Olympic medal, but in terms of performances, she has done exceedingly well," the ASAJ boss told The Gleaner yesterday.
Atkinson, who won three medals at the Short Course (SC) World Championships recently and broke the 50m breaststroke SC world record, will be looking to upstage a high-level field which favours double Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson, who is looking for her first hold on the award.
Locally, Lamey describes to the swimmer's impact as tremendous, noting that the she has now become a household name and continues to lift the sport in a positive light.
"It's a big deal for us, considering that she has been the only swimmer in a long time that has won the award," said Lamey. "She is very good to have been nominated on so many occasions and having won it."
Meanwhile, the overseas-based Atkinson has also lifted the prestige of swimming by virtue of being back-to-back runner-up in 2012 and 2013 behind sprint queen Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
"She is our winner, she is our standardbearer and topped the sport here in Jamaica, and she has a very good international ranking and standing also. When you look out there in the swimming environment, there aren't that many black swimmers coming from this region who are participating at that level," said Lamey.
After her disappointment in Rio, Atkinson equalled the 100m breaststroke world record in her return to the pool, clocking 1:02.36 on August 26 in France. She then posted 28.64 to break a seven-year SC record by 0.16 seconds at a meet in Tokyo.
The Jamaican finished second in the overall World Cup points standings and in a dominant showing, won all eight 50m breaststroke events that she started.
Besides Atkinson and Phillip, the only other swimmer to win the National Sportswoman of the Year award is Frances Noble, who did so 1968. Phillip Alexander (1965) and Paul Nash (1969) are the only National Sportsman of the Year recipients.