Alia Atkinson: Jamaican Swimmer Who Won the Country’s First World Swimming Title

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Alia Atkinson entered the history books in 2014 when she won a gold medal in the 2014 Short Course World Championships in Doha, Qatar. She became the first black woman to achieve this feat in the 100m breaststroke with a time of 1.2.36 seconds. 

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She also matched a world record by Lithuanian swimmer Rūta Meilutytė written in 2013. It was also Jamaica’s first gold medal at the World Championships. Alia made numerous achievements in her career. Find all about them below.

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Alia Atkinson’s Early Years

Alia was born in Saint James Parish, Jamaica, and picked up swimming at three years old. Her family then moved to Florida, United States, where she further developed her swimming skills. At 13, Alia Atkinson settled on the breaststroke. Before that, she did the butterfly, freestyle, and individual medley. Throughout her career, Chris Anderson coached her. 

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Competitive Swimming

The Jamaican swimmer began competing at age 15. The 2004 Olympics was her first. She did the 50m freestyle and the 100m breaststroke. That followed a series of major competitions, including:

  • 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.
  • 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, where she set a Jamaican record in the 100m, completing in a time of 1.02.40.
  • 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
  • 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India.
  • 2010 NCAA Championship, where she finished first in the 200-yard breaststroke.
  • 2011 Pan American Games. Atkinson won a silver medal in the individual medley. 

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2012 Olympics and World Championships

Alia Atkinson: Jamaican Swimmer Who Won the Country’s First World Swimming Title
Alia Atkinson preparing herself to compete. Source: Instagram

Alia Atkinson competed in three events in the Olympics. She finished fourth in the 100m breaststroke in a time of 1.06.93. However, she never competed in the finals of the 50m freestyle and 200m breaststroke. 

Despite not winning a medal in the Olympics, Alia Atkison won two silver medals in the 50-meter and 100-meter breaststroke at the World Championships. 

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2014 Competitions

This was a relatively successful year for Alia Atkinson. Starting with the Commonwealth Games, the Jamaican won silver and bronze medals in the 50m and 100m breaststroke. In the 200m breaststroke, Atkinson set a national record of 2.25.48.

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From there, the swimmer competed in the Swimming World Cup in Singapore, where she lowered the national record to 2.17.84. 

At the World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar, Alia Atkinson won the 100m breaststroke in a time of 1.02.36. She equaled the world record set in 2013 and also became the first black woman to win a swimming world title. In the same event, Atkinson bagged a silver medal in the 50 meters. 

In 2016, Alia Atkinson set the record in the 50m after she finished in 28.64 seconds, breaking Jessica Hardy’s 28.80 seconds. The Jamaican lowered her record to 28.56 seconds.

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Other Gold Medals

The other gold medals that Alia Atkison won came in the FINA World Swimming Championships in Ontario, Canada, in 2016 and 2018 in Hangzhou.

Outside the world’s major events, most of her gold medals came at the Central American and Caribbean Games. Atkinson collected 11 golds.  

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Retirement

The last of Alia Atkinson’s medals came in 2018 at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and the Central American and Caribbean Games

Alia Atkinson was disqualified in the events she participated in, didn’t make it to the finals, or didn’t get on the podium. In her final event at the 2021 World Swimming Championships, she finished fourth in the 100m breaststroke. 

Alia announced her retirement on Instagram. Although she never went out with a medal, she was content that she did everything.  

Alia Atkinson is one of the black swimmers who shouldn’t be forgotten. Coming from a country that’s known for sprinting and with little resources dedicated to swimming makes her achievements even greater.  

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