WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
July 29, 2012
It may have taken her an extra race, but South Florida Aquatic Club’s Alia Atkinson will make her first-ever appearance in a championship final at the Olympic Games.
The three-time Olympian and only swimmer for Jamaica advanced into Monday’s women’s 100-meter breaststroke final after winning a rare Olympic swim-off in a lifetime best and national record time of 1:06.79.
After swimming morning prelims and semifinals, Atkinson, brimming in confidence, won a swim-off against Canadian 19-year-old Tera Van Beilen for the eighth and final spot. Van Beilen finished in 1:07.73.
Atkinson finished tenth in morning prelims in 1:07.39, becoming the first Jamaican swimmer to win a heat at the Olympic Games. She advanced into the semifinals where she tied for fourth with Van Beilen in 1:07.48 in the first semifinal, forcing the swim-off 30-minutes after the final event on Sunday’s schedule.
“It was such a good time and I felt so much in control,” Atkinson said. “I now have even more confidence.
“My pull out is usually longer than anybody else’s so I am usually ahead but then they usually catch me up because my stroke rate is a lot quicker, so the plan was to stay ahead and bring it back home in the last 50.
“I was a bit nervous as to how I was going to swim because I haven’t raced like that in probably two months so I was pretty nervous about how that was going to go down. I knew I had to drop some more time to make final which I thought was definitely possible for me.”
Atkinson will compete Monday at 7:50 p.m. London time.
Atkinson, 23, a Flanagan High alum who grew up swimming in Pembroke Pines, was probably feeling the love back home during the final day of the Florida Gold Coast Long Course Swimming Championships in Coral Springs.
Her SOFLO teammates were gathered around SOFLO coach Megan Garland’s I-phone watching her swim-off and let out screams when she qualified.
Head referee Beth Wilkerson announced Atkinson’s result which drew a round of applause from parents, coaches and swimmers including those getting ready on the blocks.
Atkinson’s race just added to another dramatic night of swimming at the Aquatics Centre.
After missing the Beijing Olympics, Californian Dana Vollmer got her gold medal with a world record performance in the 100-meter butterfly. She won in 55.98 seconds, the fastest time ever in the women’s event, giving the U.S. women’s team its first gold medal.
“I was just thinking about all the work so many people around me have put in, and the belief that everyone had in me,” a teary-eyed Vollmer said. “There have been multiple moments in my career where I didn’t know if I was going to be able to keep going. I did something that no one’s ever done before and in a way, surely, no one envisioned doing.”
Allison Schmitt took a silver in the 400-meter freestyle with an American record 4:01.77 behind winner Camille Muffat of France and former world record holder Brendan Hansen took a bronze in the 100-meter breaststroke to cap his comeback and add to the U.S. team’s medal haul.
South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh broke the second world record of the day in the 100-meter breaststroke in 58.46. Two-time defending Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan was shut out of a medal.
The U.S. men’s 4×100-meter relay had to settle for the silver medal behind France when Ryan Lochte seemed to run out of gas in the final ten meters. Nathan Adrian, Michael Phelps and Cullen Jones gave the U.S. what looked to be an insurmountable lead but France’s Yannick Agnel overcame a half-second deficit to reel Lochte in and finish in 3:09.93. The U.S. touched in 3:10.38. Heavily favored Australia was shut out of a medal finishing fourth behind Russia.
Adrian swam a career-best 47.89 on leadoff leg. “We went down fighting,” Adrian said.
“I don’t think Ryan let anybody down, he’s beating himself up already,” Jones said. “He is the type of person who will beat on himself until the next Olympics.”
Said Lochte, “I was just really excited. I think I over-swam the first 50 which kind of hurt me for the last 50. You would think doing distance events I wouldn’t get tired but sprinting definitely takes a lot out of you and the 100 really isn’t my thing.”
Lochte will not win the six gold medals he was seeking in London and Phelps is now one medal shy of being the all-time medal winner in any sport at an Olympic Games.
Former Coral Springs Swim Club swimmer Nicholas Schwab, a Douglas alum making his Olympic debut for the Dominican Republic, competed in his first race. He won the first of six heats in the 200-meter freestyle but finished 37th out of 40 swimmers in 1:53.41.
“It probably would have helped a little bit to be in a faster heat,” said Schwab, 21, competing in front of his parents.
The U.S. won its first Olympic medal in 12 years when former University of Miami diver Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnson took a silver medal in the women’s 3-meter synchronized springboard. They totaled 321.90 points, 24.30 behind China’s Wu Mingxia and He Zi. It was the U.S. team’s first medal since Laura Wilkinson won gold in Sydney and it was Wu’s third straight Olympic synchro gold.
The U.S. men topped Montenegro, 8-7, in a hardfought match between two medal contenders. Peter Varellas scored three goals for the U.S. Next up for the U.S. is Romania, which is making its first Olympic water polo appearance since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com