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Janelle Atkinson: How She Got Her Breakthrough in Swimming


Swimming isn’t the biggest sport in Jamaica. Even after the successes of athletes like Janelle Atkinson, it lags behind sports like sprinting and football. Nonetheless, her achievements in the pool are incredible and deserve acknowledgement. In this post, we look closely into her career.

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Janelle Atkinson’s Early Life

Janelle Atkinson interview. Video Credit: Ed Accura

Janelle Atkinson was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Contrary to popular belief, she’s not related to Alia Atkinson, the first Jamaican to win a swimming world title. They moved to the United States, and she says it took her time to adapt to the culture shift. 

Nonetheless, she was a Florida Gators Swimming and Diving Club member during her time as a student at the University of Florida. She won several medals in the South Eastern Conference and got 10 All-America honors.

At the same time, she paid attention to her education and graduated with a degree in tourism and hospitality management.

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Professional Swimming

The Jamaican had an impressive career. In 1999, she represented Jamaica in the 1999 Pan American Games. She won three medals in the 200m, 400m, and 800m freestyle events. 

From there, Janelle went to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. She didn’t get a podium position in her events, as she finished fourth and ninth in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle events.

Her next international event was the Commonwealth Games, where she won bronze medals in the 400 and 800 meters events. Janelle’s final event was the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. 

The swimmer was named Jamaican Swimmer of the Year seven times between 1997 and 2003. 

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Coaching Career

Janelle Atkinson has an impressive coaching portfolio. She started as an assistant coach at Wright State University and later joined UConn Huskies at the University of Connecticut. After working at the college level, she coached the Jamaican women’s swimming team that participated in the 2009 World Aquatics Championships. 

Later on, she worked with Stony Brook University. Unlike her previous jobs, she was fired on allegations of abuse. Janelle denied these claims and sued the university for gender and racial discrimination. Although her employer settled out of court, they didn’t clear her of the allegations. 

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Reflecting on her Career

Janelle is grateful for the opportunities she got through swimming. However, she says she could have done more to be the best.

“As much as I am proud of what I did, I think I could have done more to be the best. I was always among the top, winning bronze and silver medals, but I could have challenged myself more,” She told Ed Accura.

“Between the first and second Olympics, I had four surgeries on my knee and legs. At the time, I thought I had more time, but looking back, I was naive to think that. The question has been, did I give it my all? The lesson is you should give it your all because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”

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