RJR Sports Awards Nominee | Amazing Alia
'Like fine wine she gets better with age' best describes the phenomenal performances of RJR Sports Foundation's National Sportswoman of the Year nominee, swimmer Alia Atkinson, over the past year.
At 28, an age when most top swimmers would have left the pool, Atkinson continues to wow the world with her superlative performances.
In 2016, Atkinson, competing on the short course circuit, set one world record, equalled another and overall registered seven national records. Last year, she also became one of a very select band of Jamaican women to compete at four or more Olympic Games joining the likes of Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert Flynn, Sandie Richards and Veronica Campbell-Brown. Although she did not get among the medals in Rio de Janeiro, Atkinson made a bit of history by becoming the first Jamaican swimmer to reach the final of an event in consecutive Olympic Games.
Rio de Janeiro might have been a disappointment, but the tough as nails Atkinson quickly shrugged that off to return to her best. The Florida-based swimmer who hit the big time in 2014 with a world record-equalling 1:02.36 clocking to capture 100 metres breaststroke gold at the Short Course Swimming World Championships in Doha, Qatar equalled that mark at the FINA World Cup in Chartres, France, on August 26, less than two weeks from competing in Brazil.
Then, on October 8, Atkinson hit world record form again at the FINA Short Course World Cup in Tokyo, Japan, winning the 50 metres in a new mark of 28.64 seconds.
She then closed off the year with gold in the 100 metres breaststroke, silver in 50m breaststroke and 100m individual medley bronze at the 2016 Short Course World Championships in Windsor, Canada.
In one of her now famous quotes Atkinson said she hoped her performances have helped to inspire other Jamaicans who want to succeed in swimming.
Former president of the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica Martin Lyn said Atkinson's performances have already been having a highly positive effect on young swimmers.
"Because of her performance and the attention she has brought to Jamaica, and to swimming, she has encouraged a lot of youth, male and female, to be like an Alia. Definitely, I can see where this has had a resounding effect throughout the entire fraternity of swimming in Jamaica," Lyn said.
He added: "I look at the big picture when I look at people like diver Yona Knight-Wisdom, and Atkinson. What they do for Jamaica in general, not just for swimming, is insurmountable, they really go out there and put their best foot forward at all times."
Lyn is sure Atkinson will continue to do well.
"Right now Alia is performing very well so the momentum is with her. She will be looking forward to the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. She will just have to stay focused, he added. The 2017 FINA World Championships will run from July 14-30.
Olympian Allan Roy Marsh who competed at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles also lauded the 2016 achievements of Atkinson.
There is no doubt in Marsh's mind that Alia Atkinson is Jamaica's greatest ever swimmer.
"She is easily the best swimmer we have ever had," Marsh said. "In terms of her longevity in the sport we have had swimmers who have done well at one Olympics, but we have never had a swimmer who has been able to come back and make a second Olympic final. Nobody has been able to repeat at such a high level.
"I would say over the period of about five years she has really performed extremely well at the highest level consistently. The only one that you would call disappointment, was Rio. Every other time she has gone she has always performed very well, above expectations in most cases."
Marsh thinks it might be difficult for Atkinson to continue to perform at her optimum. According to him, it is a big ask, both mentally and physically.
"Today as an elite athlete you have the physical and mental demands, also the whole thing with doping. You have to fill out a whereabouts form, you have to make sure you are certain places at a certain time. All of that demands tremendous responsibility. The great thing about it is that she looks to be still enjoying the sport and so as long as she enjoys the sport and the competition I think she will continue.
"But as Alia said after the World Short Course she will take everything as it goes. Every six months she will set goals and see where she is at," Marsh concluded.