Swimming solo - Atkinson discusses Commonwealth Games disappointment, diversity in swimming
Standout Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson, while expressing disappointment with the local support for swimming, is looking to continue encouraging diversity in the sport after her global impact was brought to the fore at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games.
The 29-year-old, who, in 2014, became the first black woman to win a world title in swimming, finished second in the 50m breaststroke event on Australia's Gold Coast but was left with a feeling of fulfilment after interactions with other young, black swimmers at the championships.
"Not at all," she said, when asked if she was happy with her performance at the championships. "But I have to be grateful."
"More than likely, it will be my last [Commonwealth Games], and I wanted to make a bigger statement than I did. However, what was encouraging was the young swimmers from around the world that said they looked up to me."
Despite having about five swimmers with qualifying times for the Commonwealth Games, the Jamaican aquatics delegation was cut to one swimmer and a diver (Yona Knight-Wisdom) by the Jamaica Olympic Association, which itself,, had been given an overall quota of athletes and officials from the Commonwealth Games organisers.
"Having Jamaica cut the swimming team, it left me feeling discouraged and unmotivated, like no matter what I did, swimming will never be better than when I started. The swimmers from Uganda and Ghana, South Africa, and Sierra Leone, just the love in their eyes and eagerness to swim and prove themselves, and they said I was a reason for that," Atkinson said.
"I almost cried ... [when I saw] the amount of respect they had for me. My efforts may have been neglected in Jamaica [because of the lack of support in allowing other swimmers to go to the meet], but it has grown bright in other countries, and I am truly humbled for that," Atkinson stated.
To this end, the Olympic finalist and world record holder has launched a new platform, Watabound, which will serve as a community for swimmers of colour and those from Third World countries. She hopes that the resource will encourage greater participation and aid in the sport's development.
"I want Watabound to become a page that swimmers from all walks of life will be able to look at and be encouraged. It will have videos of past swimmers who have succeeded, questions and answers from current and past swimmers, as well as technique videos, photos, and things that plague swimmers of colour or Third World country swimmers," she told The Gleaner.
"I believe that with my success in the sport, maybe swimming has become a little more popular in some areas. Maybe more women are not afraid to try something new. Maybe young kids are inspired to venture out of the norm and attempt swimming as a sport," she said.
"Nevertheless, without a supporting federation and Government, any hope of seeing a colour-filled pool at international meets will be futile. Everybody needs to want a better future - a diverse future. The athlete cannot do it alone."