Andre Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
As the Government makes the final steps towards fulfilling a promise made to Jamaican swimming star Alia Atkinson, the 24-year-old has moved to defend the decision made to fund her $20-million 2016 Olympics training programme.
Following a fourth-place, national record-smashing performance in the 100m breaststroke at last year's Olympic Games in London, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller assured that the Government would help to fund Atkinson's training expenses all the way through to the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
However, with the sport being dominated on many fronts by much younger swimmers, some have questioned the prudence of Simpson Miller's pledge, calling instead for greater focus and support towards the island's youth talent through the implementation of proper programmes and structure.
Prime minister surprised
Atkinson, who had brief discussions with Simpson Miller and minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for sport, Natalie Neita-Headley after the recent RJR Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards, told The Gleaner that Simpson Miller expressed surprise that things weren't already in place for the funding.
"She (Simpson Miller) was surprised that she hadn't heard anything from her staff, so she said she would look into it again and the minister of sport said that she would look into it, so, definitely, they confirmed that they did have a plan of support and they were surprised it hadn't come through as yet," Atkinson said.
"I always had hope in the Government. I believed what the prime minister had said. I just hoped that it would come at a decent time and, apparently, it will," Atkinson added. "This is when I start back training and all of that, so, hopefully, I can see what she was saying and actually get the funding."
Willing to give back
The 2012 National Sportswoman of the Year runner-up supported the call for youth development, but believes she has done enough to warrant support from the country.
"I don't believe that everything should go to one swimmer, but then again, the accolades that I achieve also help Jamaica put them on the map, and then the Jamaica Swimming (Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica) should be starting up with the youth swimming, such as Youth World Championships, and building their programme as well,"said Atkinson.
"Also, (with) all the experience that I get, I can always come back and help with the clinics and teach the younger swimmers how to improve from all the experience that I earn, and actually pass it on," she added.
Atkinson followed up her London effort with two silver medals at the World Short Course Swimming Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
When contacted, Neita-Headley told The Gleaner that the numbers are being crunched and that an official announcement will be made shortly.
"We are working on the details of what is going to be required and what we will be able to give," said Neita-Headley.