By Sharon Robb
July 24, 2014—South Florida Aquatic Club’s Alia Atkinson opened the 20th Commonwealth Games in grand style Thursday at the Tollcross Swimming Centre in Glasgow, Scotland.
In her first morning prelim swim, the three-time Jamaican Olympian broke the Commonwealth Games record in the 50-meter breaststroke in 30.49 seconds and came back in the semifinals to break it again in 30.17.
It was her fastest long course time bettering her previous time of 30.91 and breaking her own Jamaican national record. At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India she swam 32.48.
In the semifinals Thursday night, Atkinson, 25, swimming in Lane 4, had a great start and pulled away for a half-body length midway through the race, to win the second semifinal heat in a Games record in 30.17.
Atkinson was intimidating before she even stepped on the blocks looking like Darth Vadar wearing all black Speedo cap, warmup and racing suit. Her nails were painted in Jamaican green and gold colors. Defending champion Leiston Pickett won the first semifinal heat in 30.64.
Australia broke the first world record of the Games in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay in the final event of the night.
Australia, under world record pace early in the race and again on the final leg, broke the world record in 3:30.98. The gold-medal winning relay was sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, Emma McKeon and Mel Schlanger. Cate Campbell swam an anchor leg split of 52.16.
The Aussies took nearly a second off the world record set by the Netherlands five years ago in 3:31.72. England took silver in 3:35.72 and Canada took bronze in 3:40.00. Singapore was seventh in 3:49.69.
Several of Alia Atkinson’s Jamaican teammates also competed on opening day of the swimming competition. Zara Bailey was seventh in the 100-meter butterfly in 1:04.25. She was sixth in the 400-meter individual medley in 4:59.
Jamaican Timothy Wynter, who is also training with SOFLO and national team head coach Chris Anderson, was seventh in the 50-meter butterfly in 25.79. Dominic Walter was seventh in the 500-meter freestyle in 4:09.53.
Atkinson, making her third appearance (2006, 2010) at the Commonwealth Games, will attempt to make history on Friday by becoming the first Jamaican swimmer to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in the final at 1:05 p.m. (EST). Atkinson also has a shot at cracking 30 seconds in the event.
The last time Jamaica won a medal in swimming at the Commonwealth Games was when Janelle Atkinson won two bronze medals in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles in 2002.
Team Singapore, coached by Bolles head coach Sergio Lopez had six swims Thursday night.
Joseph Schooling tied the Asian record during morning prelims of the 50-meter butterfly in 23.43. It was the second fastest time of the morning. Swimming in Lane 4 in the semifinals, Schooling was third in his heat in 23.48.
Z. W. Quah wass seventh in 100-meter backstroke semifinals in 56.43. Tao Li went 59.22 in the women’s 100-meter butterfly, T.W. Quah went 1:01.90 in the women’s 100-meter butterfly and women’s relay was seventh.
In championship final races:
Women’s 400-meter individual medley: Scotland’s Hannah Miley made her country proud by winning the first gold medal at the Games in 4:31.76, defending her title. Brit Aimee Willmott, 21, who flirted with the world record and gold medal, took silver in 4:33.01 and Aussie Keryn McMaster took the bronze in 4:36.35, her first medal at the Games. Miley is only the fourth swimmer to win a gold medal in Scotland in swimming.
Men’s 400-meter freestyle: Canadian Ryan Cochrane came from behind in the final 50 meters with a 27.2 split to overtake early leader Aussie David McKeon, who was under world record pace for the first 200 meters. Cochrane defended his title to win gold in 3:43.46 to win Canada’s first gold medal of the Games. McKeon was second in 3:44.09 and Brit James Guy, an 18-year-old emerging star, was third in 3:44.58.
Women’s 200-meter freestyle: In an exciting neck-and-neck race, Aussie Emma McKeon won in a Games record 1:55.57, her second of the day. McKeon’s older brother David just missed gold in the 400 freestyle. Brit Siobhan O’Connor, 18, was second in 1:55.82 and Aussie Bronte Barratt was third in 1:56.62.
Men’s 200-meter breaststroke: Scotland finished 1-2 with Ross Murdoch winning in 2:07.30, his second Games record, and his more-experienced teammate Michael Jamieson taking silver in 2:08.40. Brit Andrew Willis was third in 2:09.87.
A Royal Air Force SAC bagpiper escorted medalists to the awards ceremony. Instead of flowers and stuffed animal, swimmers were presented a Scottish drinking cup during the medals ceremony.
Queen Elizabeth visited with swimmers during morning prelims and even inadvertently photo bombed a pair of Aussie hockey athletes’ selfie.
The official YouTube channel for the Commonwealth Games is offering a globally-available live stream that is airing events in their entirety. The link is being updated daily by meet organizers. The Commonwealth Games official website is immediately posting medal winners’ portraits, times and full results after each race.
*Three-time South African Olympian Darian Townsend became a U.S. citizen on Thursday and plans to compete in the U.S. nationals next month. He is a former world record holder in the 200-meter individual medley short course, gold medalist in the 400-meter freestyle relay and eight-time NCAA champion.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org