WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
October 4, 2010
Two-time Olympian Alia Atkinson will go after her first medal of the 19th Commonwealth Games on Tuesday in Delhi, India.
The South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer representing Jamaica qualified among a top women’s field in the 50-meter breaststroke at the Dr. S.P.M. Aquatics Complex in Talkatora Gardens.
On the opening day of the swimming competition, Atkinson advanced in the opening heat in 32.24 seconds and was seventh fastest swimmer in the semifinals in 32.13 to advance into the championship final.
Leiston Pickett of Australia was top semifinal qualifier in 30.74 after a prelims clocking of 30.57, that ranks third in the world behind American Jessica Hardy and Yuliya Efimova.
Also in the field are Kate Haywood (31.22) and Rebecca Ajulu-Bushell (31.47) of Great Britain, Leisel Jones (31.29) and Sarah Katsoulis (31.58) of Australia, Annamay Pierse (32.07) of Canada and Kathryn Johnstone (32.31) of Scotland.
“It was a good way to start off,” said Atkinson, a Flanagan High School and Texas A&M graduate. “I wanted to get into finals and focused on that. Making finals really helps my confidence,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson, ill for the first 36 hours after arriving, showed no signs of any lingering effects.
“My eating habits haven’t been the same but it didn’t seem to have any effect on me in the pool,” said the national record holder.
“I had my ups and downs in the water. I haven’t been able to get my stroke down yet but I am still hoping to find that. The pool is nice and fast and the competition is very good here.”
Atkinson was also 12th in the 200-meter individual medley in 2:24.39. She will compete in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events later this week.
Atkinson is one of three swimmers representing Jamaica. Atkinson has the most international experience.
Jamaican teammate Vicky Ho of Lake Lytal Lightning made her major meet international debut by swimming her career-best time of 2:08.49 in the 200-meter freestyle, the first of three events she qualified for.
“I am really excited, I am happy with my best time,” Ho said. “The competition is so fast here. This is my first Commonwealth Games and going my best time helps my confidence.”
SOFLO CEO and Jamaica coach Chris Anderson was pleased with his swimmers’ performances.
“I was happy for Vicky going her best time in her first major international meet, it was very positive for her and her outlook for swimming,” Anderson said.
“Alia is looking better each day. She had a really nice pace in the 50 but then started to relax her strokes and lost her focus on her actual technique.
“She understands more and more what she needs to do to be successful at this level,” Anderson said. “She is moving better in the water. She knows in the back of her mind this is a big shave meet she can gain confidence in for future big meets.”
In other races on opening day:
Kylie Palmer of Australia won the first gold medal of the meet in the 200-meter freestyle in 1:57.50. Jazmin Carlin of Wales took silver (1:58.29) and Rebecca Adlington of England took bronze (1:58.47).
“I am speechless,” said the 20-year-old Palmer. “It is an awesome feeling. You can’t get any better than winning a gold medal.”
Canadian Ryan Cochrane came from behind to win the 400-meter freestyle in 3:48.48. Early leader Ryan Napoleon of Australia took silver (3:48.59). David Carry of Scotland took bronze (3:50.06).
“The 400 is a tough race and I am still learning it,” Cochrane said. “I just wanted to stay close and then go hard. I wanted to set a positive tone to start the week.”
Napoleon won an appeal last month allowing him to compete in the Games after serving a three-month ban for a positive asthma drug test after a pharmacist mislabeled a medication intended for his father.
“Ryan is a great swimmer and he just got me in the end,” Napoleon said. “I am happy to come away with the silver.”
Alicia Coutts of Australia broke the meet record to win the 200-meter individual medley in 2:09.70, fastest time ever in a textile suit. The previous record was 2:12.90. Her victory spoiled the expected showdown between Emily Seebohm of Australia and Hannah Miley of Scotland.
Seebohm, who was hoping to win eight gold medals a la Michael Phelps, settled for silver in 2:10.83 and Canada’s Julia Wilkinson took bronze in 2:12.09. Absent from the field was Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Rice of Australia, who underwent shoulder surgery.
“I didn’t expect to win,” Coutts said. “I have been working hard on my stroke. It’s nice to step up and show that I am capable of being a champion and being the best.”
Eighteen-year-old Chad Le Clos became the first South African to win a gold medal in Delhi and first from his country ever to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly. He won in a meet record 1:56.48, bettering the previous mark of 1:56.64. Michael Rock of England took silver in 1:57.15 and Canadian national record holder Stefan Hirniak took bronze in 1:57.26.
Australia’s Kyle Richardson, Eamon Sullivan, Tommaso D’Orsogna and James Magnussen won the 400-meter freestyle relay in a meet record 3:13.92, breaking the previous record of 3:14.97. Britain took second in 3:15.05 and South Africa was third in 3:15.21.
The Commonwealth Games, held every four years, have brought together more than 6,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries. It’s only the second time the Games, which end Oct. 14, have been held in Asia.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org