Already a legend
Atkinson continues hunt for elusive Olympic glory
There are not too many things missing from Alia Atkinson’s medal cabinet, but today inside the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, the 32-year-old Jamaican swimming star will take another shot, perhaps her last, at something she has not so far managed in her career – a podium finish at the Olympic Games.
Atkinson’s CV removes any doubt about her status as a leading global presence in the pool – three short-course world records and 26 international medals for Jamaica, including four short-course World Championships gold medals.
However, she is haunted by back-to-back disappointments at the Olympic Games and a less-than-dominant season, by her own standards, hampered by limited preparations and competitions.
Still, the veteran swimmer will today begin another mission for her first Olympic medal in what will be her fifth appearance at the Games, when she lines up in the heats of the women’s 100m breaststroke at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre at 7:40 p.m. (5:40 a.m. Jamaica time).
For president of the Aquatics Sports Association of Jamaica, Martin Lyn, Atkinson’s legacy and place in the halls of swimming greats has already been secured, whether or not she manages to swim her way onto the medal podium in Tokyo.
“The fact is that her legacy is already set, she has done incredibly well for Jamaica,” said Lyn. “She has put Jamaica on the world stage, not just in what she has achieved, but basically in her performances as well.”
He added, “She has excelled in a sport that predominantly consists of Caucasians or Europeans. She has done extremely well, holding world records. Her name is already set and is secure in the annals of swimming history.”
Atkinson was within a fingernail of winning a bronze in the women’s 100m breaststroke at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, finishing fourth, but suffered a disappointing eight-place finish four years later in Rio de Janeiro, after an impressive year on the circuit saw her arrive at the Games as a strong contender for a medal in the event.
She followed up that eight-place finish with three medals at the World Short Course Swimming Championships and, while she has continued to stamp her class in international competitions, Atkinson has been unable to replicate that form on the Olympic stage.
REBOUNDED VERY NICELY
“In the last couple of months, she had a setback but she has had setbacks in the past and has rebounded very nicely,” Lyn said.
“We are really looking forward to Alia’s participation at this Olympics, not just from the point of view that it’s been a long road for her, but the fact of the matter is that she has really improved over the last couple years. She is certainly focused and geared up to do what she really has to do at the Olympics, so we are really anticipating her performance and wish her well.”
At 32 years old, Atkinson is one of just two persons among the 47 entrants in the women’s 100m breaststroke event at the Tokyo Olympics, who was born before 1990, leaving questions about her ability to return to the next installment of the Olympics in Paris in 2024.
“Whether or not this is her last Olympics, the fact of the matter is that she is an athlete, so it’s in her blood. It depends on how she performs at this Olympics. It also depends on her mind because the next Olympics won’t be that far away. It also depends on what she does after these Games but, of course, it’s up to her. Regardless, we would support any decision she makes,” said Lyn.