DOHA: Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson tied a world record in the 100-metre breaststroke at the World Short Course Championships in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, to become the first Black woman to win a world championship in swimming.
Atkinson won the race in a time of 1:02.36 seconds, stunning defending champion and co-world record holder, Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania, who won silver in a time of 1:02.46.
Moniek Nijhuis of the Netherlands clocked 1:04.03 to take bronze.
Short course swimming competition is held in a pool that is 25-metres in length. Long course competition, which includes the Olympics, is held in a pool 50-metres in length.
Atkinson’s time also shattered the championship record of 1:02.43, set by Meilutyte during the semifinals of the competition.
“I couldn’t believe it!” said Atkinson, who celebrates her 26th birthday today. “I just thought ‘Oh okay’ and looked up at the board and it didn’t really click yet and then it really started to click. It took a while.”
Meilutyte took an early lead in the race with Atkinson in strong pursuit, and was ahead at the halfway point. However, Atkinson closed quickly off the final turn to win the gold.
Atkinson is a three-time Olympian and finished fourth in the 100-metre breaststroke at the 2012 London Games in a time of 1:06.93.
Atkinson works as a special projects director at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida. She is a staunch advocate of promoting swimming for children and is featured in a colouring book, Water Safety for Kids, by artist Kimberly Peterson.
“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,” she said.
Atkinson expressed hope that her victory would inspire more people in Jamaica and the Caribbean to promote swimming safety and take up competitive swimming.
“Hopefully my face will come out, there will be more popularity, especially in Jamaica and the Caribbean,” she said.