André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
Swimmer lowers national mark to make today's final
IT WAS one of the longest one hour and 40 minutes of her life, but in the end, Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson kept her medal hopes alive and is the first Jamaican in a final at the Olympic Games in London.
Keeping herself hydrated and hopping to and from the restroom, she waited agonisingly for yesterday's evening session as she prepared to face her destiny.
A spot in the final was on the line as the three-time Jamaican Olympian and Canadian Tera Van Beilen stood alone in the almost emptied Aquatics Centre; only one would leave the pool with a place among the top-eight 100m breaststroke swimmers on the planet.
The swim-off became necessary after the pair had tied for fourth place and the final qualifying spot in their semi-final earlier yesterday evening with a time of 1:07.48, which was slower than the 1:07.39 national record that Atkinson posted earlier.
That time made her the second Jamaican to win a swimming heat at an Olympic Games after Sion Brinn won his 50m and 100m freestyle heats at the Atlanta 1996 games.
A bit peeved that she had to swim again, Atkinson passed the time by keeping herself hydrated and getting pep talks from her mother and coach.
Atkinson, determined to become the first Jamaican to medal at an Olympic Games, was not about to let her dream be taken away by the 19-year-old Canadian, as she got a strong start and powered through after the 50m turn to stamp her class and secure her final berth.
"My main goal coming here is to make the final, and I just told myself that she (Van Beilen) was not going to stop me," Atkinson asserted shortly after her race.
The 23-year-old actually, for the second time in a day, lowered the national record, with a 1:06.79 clocking, and is now stocked up on confidence heading into today's final, which is set for 8:15 p.m. (2:15 p.m. Jamaica time). Van Beilen finished in 1:07.73.
"My mother told me that in order to make each step, you have to get better each time, and I didn't do it (get better) for the second one (semi-final), so I had to do the swim-off; it was a lesson, and I did it again, and it only means that I am improving each time," Atkinson told The Gleaner.
"My coach spoke to me and reminded me that I had more endurance than her because I do the 200m breaststroke as well, so another swim is nothing compared to what I had done so far, and that he knew what I could do, and I just needed to know for myself as well," she added.
Atkinson is also scheduled to compete in the 200m breaststroke and the 50m freestyle at these Olympic Games - her third after she competed at the 2004 Athens games and 2008 Beijing games.