Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson made history in Doha, Qatar by winning the first gold medal ever attained in swimming by a Black woman.
She won the women’s 100m breaststroke during the 12th FINA World Swimming there and in the process not only championed a victory for her nation and the Caribbean but for an entire race. With the stellar victory Atkinson also distinguished herself as the first of her race and gender to hold a world short-course record since Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands 40 years ago.
The 24-year-old Jamaican scored the win in record time equaling the world record of 1:02:36 and beating Ruta Meilutyte, the defending champion. Reportedly, Atkinson touched the wall ahead of her closest rival who had led part of the way and finished in 1:02:46. Her double achievement ensured the gold medal and also represented a new meet record.
It is the first time a female Caribbean swimmer has ever won a World Championship gold medal.
“I’m not used to seeing my name up there at number one,” Atkinson said afterwards. “It’s a good shock.”
The win records Jamaica’s first short-course world title and a major boost for Atkinson’s career with achievement of the island’s first swimmer to ever finish with silver medals in the 50 meters breaststroke in 2012 and 2014 and the 100 meters breaststroke in 2012.
Allegedly both Atkinson and Meilutyte are known for their fast reaction times. At the start of the event both were ahead of the field with reaction times of 0.65 and 0.59, respectively. Meilutyte led after the first 50 meters clocking in :29.10 ahead of Atkinson’s :29.46. Atkinson then exhibited unique form overwhelming Meilutyte in the second half of the race.
In addition to being a golden girl, Atkinson earned a silver medal in the 50meters breaststroke on the second day of competition. During that race she claimed a personal best time of 28.91. The persevering and dedicated athlete also earned a fourth-place finish on the third day of competitions in the 100 meters individual medley in 58.58.
Of her superlative performance she said: “Hopefully my face will come out, there will be more popularity, especially in Jamaica and the Caribbean and we’ll see more of a rise and hopefully in the future we will see a push,” for the sport.
Reportedly unaware of her feat, after the race she unknowingly stared up at the scoreboard looking to see how she timed.
When the accomplishment resonated she asked in disbelief “Me?”
“I couldn’t believe it. It came down to the same thing as the 50 and on the 50 I got out-touched so in my mind I went straight back to that.
“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,” the excited but accomplished swimmer said: “It took a while.”
Jamaicans are calling Atkinson their new Golden Girl. Already an Olympian after competing in the last Olympic Games, she is poised to break many more barriers.
After hearing the news a proud national shouted “Alia to the world” a parody to the popular phrase echoed during the competitions before and after races won by Usain Bolt, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce and others — “Jamaica to the world.”