A report by Sherdon Cowan for Jamaica’s Observer.
Having achieved most of her goals in what has been a phenomenal career thus far, Jamaica’s swimming sensation Alia Atkinson is open to sharing her expertise with aspiring stars of the aquatics arena in and around the Caribbean.
The barrier-breaking breaststroke specialist, who has almost single-handedly placed Jamaica on the world map of swimming, is cognisant that she is the beacon of the sport for compatriots and the region at large.
With that in mind, Atkinson has accepted the onus as a role model to “ignite others”, especially those in the so-called, non-traditional sports, which has always been a part of her mandate.
Atkinson, 27, has represented the island at four consecutive Olympic Games since making her international debut at the age of 15 and that feat is complemented by two astonishing record-breaking exploits on the short-course circuit.
“The sport of swimming is not only growing but the popularity of the sport is as well, so any sign of progress is a good sign, but we can still do more in educating the public on water safety and promoting swimming as a life skill as well as a sport,” the “darling of the pool” told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.
“I would love to start working on clinics not just in Jamaica but the Caribbean as well. I can only lead by example, especially for the swimmers coming up in Jamaica and if they have any questions or concerns I try to make sure I am approachable and available for them,” she added.
After becoming the first black woman to win a world title in 2014 in Doha, Qatar, where she also equalled Ruta Meilutyte’s 100m breaststroke record time of 1:02.36, Atkinson would face the biggest disappointment of her career – a last-place finish at the Rio Olympics last year.
But it has always been said that there is calm before a storm and her resilience, courage and unstinting determination coupled with encouraging words from fans around the world saw her bouncing back even stronger.
She produced a series of outstanding performances during the FINA/airweave Swimming World Cup, one of which saw her equalling the 100m breaststroke record for a second time.
And she inevitably claimed a record for her own in the 50m breaststroke in Tokyo, Japan, clocking 28.64 seconds to erase the old mark of 28.80 seconds set by Jessica Hardy of the USA in 2009.
The 2014 Sportswoman of the year was once again shortlisted for the prestigious award at the recent gala, but was named runner-up to triple Olympic medallist Elaine Thompson.
“The 2016 season can be summed up in one word: expectation. I had the sheer will to do better, to be better than the rest and dream bigger without life’s many obstacles. However, life doesn’t play by my rules, and Olympic was proof that even though you work hard, and train to the best of your ability, it is not always enough.
“The main reason I bounced back so quickly is because of all the people that wrote me via social media. The magnitude of love and support from the Jamaican people and fans all around the world was truly God sent,” Atkinson noted.
“So I am thrilled that I was still nominated and named runner-up for 2016, considering the year I had, with the ups and downs. Track and Field, as usual, did fantastic and Ms (Stafanie) Taylor is quite an asset on the field, so I felt blessed beyond measure to be among Jamaica’s top athletes,” she added.
Now with a fairly quiet season ahead of her, Atkinson, who was in Jamaica on vacation, pointed out that learning new techniques and experimenting with different aerobic exercises to improve her strength will be key on the agenda.
“I will probably begin training again in the coming weeks. My main competitions are in the latter part of the year, so I can give myself a few days to miss the pool, before I dive back in. But I am definitely hoping to build my body better than before,” she ended.