Honour Award: Alia Atkinson for Sports
- Outside of the pool, Alia helps to write and promote learn-to-swim books for children
- Alia is a strong voice for minorities in swimming and has become involved in various championships, giving her an opportunity to give back to the swimming fraternity'
- Alia placed first in the 200 Breaststroke at the 2010 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships, swimming for Texas A&M. Atkinson, who captained the team, became the university's first winner since the Title Nine legislation that allowed greater participation for women and girls was passed. She also became the second black female to capture an NCAA swimming title.
The sport of swimming may not be the most popular among Jamaicans, but Alia Atkinson is improving its profile almost single-handedly. The swimming sensation debuted at age four at the Y-Speedos Club in Jamaica, and today, at age 26, is a dominant world force in her field, breaking records and setting benchmarks in the pool.
On December 6, 2014, Atkinson won gold in the 100m breaststroke at the FINA World Short Course Championships in Doha, Qatar. This made Atkinson the first Jamaican to win a short course world title. To make her accomplishment that more impressive and historic, Atkinson equalled the world record of one minute, 2.36 seconds.
Atkinson also became the first black woman to hold a world short course record since Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands, who achieved her feat 40 years ago.
Before her golden achievement, Atkinson had previously won three World Short Course silver medals, making her the first Jamaican swimmer to medal at a global event.
For her big splashes in the pool and for making Jamaicans across the world proud, The Gleaner Company presents Alia Atkinson with The Gleaner Honour Award in the category of Sports for 2014.
Here, key figures in the sport speak about her outstanding achievements:
MIKE FENNELL - President, Jamaica Olympic Association
Alia Atkinson has, for many years, been one of our outstanding athletes - not only in her physical performances - but also in her attitude and commitment.
She has always showed promise and has always been absolutely outstanding. Going back to London 2012, she barely missed out on a medal and for many who do not have the same sort of commitment, that would be the end of the road. But she regrouped herself, went back to serious training and committed herself to going even further.
Her next big step was the Commonwealth Games last year, but again she was disappointed in her own performance as she felt the gold was hers, and the most human reaction would be, that's it. But she didn't allow that to dampen her spirit, she kept her eyes clearly on the prize and doubled her effort and came back, and showed the level of commitment that she has through her results in Doha.
It is not known by the general public the sacrifices we ask them (athletes) to make when they are competing at the highest level. It's very intensive training with very little time for themselves, and they need a lot of support. But as a personality, you couldn't ask for anybody better; she is an outstanding performer and a beautiful person and one that is committed to her trade at the highest level.
JACKY WALTER - Former national swimming coach
I am absolutely delighted for Alia Atkinson. She is an athlete the swimming association has worked with for many years now. She has been on the national team since age 11 and she has always done well at the local and Carifta levels.
Last year's achievements are the realisation of a plan that she and her coach have been working on for a couple of years. Last year, she just missed the world record on a few occasions. She went back to the drawing board and was able to achieve that in 2014.
She has had periods that she has not been as successful as she would have liked, but what I really admire in her is the patience she has shown and the faith in her coach to stay the course and to get to this point.
As a role model, I can't think of words to describe her ... I think so highly of her ... she is the complete package.
MARTIN LYN - President, Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica
Alia Atkinson has consistently stuck to the task of becoming an elite athlete. Her achievements show that with consistency and perseverance, you can really achieve your goals in life.
She has had some personal setbacks but she didn't make those setbacks bother her too much, or take her off the track she set out on from the beginning.
We have to commend her family support and the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica. As an elite athlete, you need support emotionally and financially. You can't put a figure on that. It takes a lot out of the family. And for that I think Alia is an extremely good role model, not just in aquatics. She started out from as early as age four and at 26 she is enjoying the fruits of her very hard work.
Her strong character has helped, but there is also her environment and the people around her. I can bet a lot of pressure was put on her not to continue and from that you can see that her character is strong and she has proven that a Jamaican can get to the highest level in aquatics.
ALLAN ROY MARSH - Vice-president, Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica
Alia Atkinson has had a very good year. At the Commonwealth Games, she got a bronze and a silver medal and she established two Commonwealth records in the 50m and 200m breaststroke. Although she didn't win the gold medals, those were excellent performances.
Then she had a very good World Cup series - August to November - where she won 11 races on the trot and then to finish it off with a world record in Doha, it was a fantastic and historic year for a Caribbean swimmer.
For the first time, we had a female winning a gold medal at a World Championship and establishing a record. So it was a really tremendous year and it has been amazing in terms of motivation for Jamaica. We can't say enough about what this has done to transform the sport, because our young swimmers now believe that they can do it, if they put in the hard work.