Shanelle Weir writes that Alia Atkinson made history in Doha yesterday evening when she became the first black woman – and racer from Jamaica either gender – to win a world swimming title – and, she adds, “the moment came with a fourth line in the history books: in 1:02.36, she matched the world record of the woman she pipped, Ruta Meilutyte, Olympic and World l/c champion.” Atkinson credits her parents: “Growing up on the island of Jamaica, surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, my parents felt that not only was learning to swim important for keeping me safe from drowning, but that the ability to swim would also provide me a lifelong passport to a world of recreational pleasures and employment possibilities on a planet that is mostly made of water.”
Read excerpts here (see link below for full article):
The first black woman ever to hold a world s/c record – in the days before FINA recognised standards in the little pool – was Enith Brigitha, of The Netherlands, 40 years ago. Brigitha, beaten by East Germans at major meets throughout her career, set the 100m freestyle standard three times in her career, overtaking Shane Gould‘s 58.1 from 1971 with a 57.04 in 1974. [I went swimming with Gould today – a thrilling experience on a day when Atkinson’s swim gave us reason to recall the world of water four decades ago].
In 2014, Meilutyte (LTU) was out first in 29.10, Atkinson on 29.46. The last two laps saw Atkinson, 26, edge level before timing her finish better than Meilutyte’s last rush for the wall: 1:02.46 took silver, the race won on the back of back-end 50 splits of 32.90 for the victor, 33.36 for the vanquished.
“Me!?” screamed Atkinson as she glared up at the scoreboard in amazement and joy. The time had long been a-coming, Atkinson an old hand at speed on world cup tour but getting her fingertips to the wall first in a major race had proved a mission impossible – until today.
The championship record set by Meilutyte at 1:02.43 in semi-finals yesterday was also sunk in the midst of it all, while bronze went to Dutch challenger Moniek Nijhuis in 1:04.03. That locked out Shi Jinglin (CHN), on 1:04.52 and Sally Hunter (AUS) on 1:04.82, those top 5 finishers the best 5 in the world this season. AndRikke Pedersen (DEN) made it six, with a 1:04.84. [. . .]
Atkinson’s presence in the pool transcends her athletic excellence in a sport overwhelmingly white at elite level. The 26-year-old features in a documentary made by the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, where she works as a Special Projects Director. The work is aimed at promoting swimming to parents and children. Atkinson is the poster girl for a colouring book “Water Safety for Kids” by artist Kimberly Peterson.
“Drowning accidents occur too frequently,” said Atkinson. “They are always tragic and the grief we experience through the loss of a loved one is barely diminished by the passing of time. Whether the victim happens to be a young child or an adult, the impact on family and relatives is devastating.”
She added: “Growing up on the island of Jamaica, surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, my parents felt that not only was learning to swim important for keeping me safe from drowning, but that the ability to swim would also provide me a lifelong passport to a world of recreational pleasures and employment possibilities on a planet that is mostly made of water.”