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Alia - our best ever?

Published:Thursday | July 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer

Alia Atkinson is on her way to becoming Jamaica's best ever swimmer. That's the opinion of expert swimming coach Jackie Walter. Speaking last week in Kingston, coach Walter said Atkinson is a role model for the younger members of Jamaica's swim team to the Commonwealth Games.

"We have the experience and young upcoming swimmers, and for the young and upcoming you couldn't get a better role model than Alia," she said.

Fourth in the 100-metre breaststroke at the 2012 Olympics, Atkinson is a potential medal winner in the Commonwealth Games. She will compete in the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke, with strong medal chances in the two longer events.

"Technically, she's one of the best in the world in breaststroke now," the coach said.

Alia goes to Glasgow with the fastest personal best among the entrants for the 100 breaststroke at one minute, 06.79 seconds.

"I think this is part of her coming into her own," Walter continued.

According to Walter, the emergence of a professional swimming circuit, including the short course World Championships and the World Cup, have helped Alia advance.

"We had Janelle (Atkinson) who was good, but didn't get those opportunities," she detailed, "and I think because of the whole professionalism of the sport of swimming, she's getting more focused."

Janelle set the pace for Jamaican swimmers during her fine career. She won three Pan-Am Games silver medals in 1999, finished fourth in the 400 freestyle in the 2000 Olympics and won two Commonwealth silvers in 2002.

Since Alia graduated from Texas A&M University, she has been able to devote more time to her craft and the coach pinpoints 2012 as a turning point. Alia won her second National Collegiate Athletic Association title in the 200m breaststroke for A&M and won a swim-off to reach the Olympic final.

Despite that extra race, she still swam brilliantly in the final and missed a medal by a slim margin. Later in 2012, she won double silver medals in the World Championships.

"I don't know if Alia believed previous to the 2012 Olympics," she analysed. "You know, she believed part way, but there wasn't 100 per cent. I believe that she now believes that she can get there."

Alia, 25, is the holder of seven national records and a 2011 Pan-Am silver in the 200 individual medley. Janelle, who retired after the 2004 Olympics, still has five national records.

Hubert Lawrence has attended the Olympics in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.