By Sharon Robb
December 2, 2014—-Alia Atkinson is taking a low-key approach when it comes to setting her sights on winning gold medals and breaking world records at the 12th FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar.
“I want to say I am in the best position, but I have been in this position going out to numerous meets already and it hasn’t panned out like I expected, so no expectations,” Atkinson said before leaving on Thanksgiving Day.
The three-time Jamaican Olympian and South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer does have a quiet confidence based on her training and mindset and not the fact she finally got the monkey off her back by beating world record holder Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania during the FINA World Cup Series.
Atkinson, 25, begins competing Wednesday at the Hamad Aquatic Center where she will go head-to-head with Meilutyte again in the opening women’s event.
Atkinson is seeded first in 29.00 and Meilutyte is second seed in 29.10 in the 50-meter breaststroke. There are only three other swimmers sub-30 in the field.
Atkinson will also swim the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke and 100-meter individual medley. She is seeded first in three of her four events.
“I don’t want to anticipate because I did that at Commonwealth Games and that didn’t turn out so well,” Atkinson said. “Basically, I am going in to swim the best race that I can and if all of that works out then I will be happy with that regardless of the placing.
“I would love to go in there and win. I am ranked first in three events so to come back out and still be ranked first in three events would be the top of the iceberg. Right now I am just trying to execute a good race and get down everything and we will see where that lands.”
Atkinson, sponsored by Speedo, is coming off a successful FINA/MASTBANK World Cup Series tour. She brought home $120,000, her biggest paycheck in swimming.
Atkinson defeated Meilutyte twice during the FINA World Cup Series. In Tokyo, she won the 100-meter breaststroke in a national record 1:02.86 ahead of Meilutyte.
In Singapore she won the 100-meter breaststroke again breaking her own national record in 1:02.54, just .18 off the world short course record. Meilutyte was second in 1:03.05.
“Basically I was going in there to break the world record whether she was beside me or not,” Atkinson said. “She was another competitor. I had Yulia (Efimova) last year and will probably have someone else next year. With the big competitors racing with me it helps me to go faster, so with Ruta beside me it was prompting me to go faster and faster and hopefully break the world record.
“Whether I beat her or not, it’s a race. It could be her or somebody else.”
Atkinson is determined not to put any added pressure on herself over the next five days.
“I want to say I put a lot of pressure on myself but I don’t feel like that in the race. I’m not swimming and thinking I have to win, I have to win. I just swim to swim. So I don’t think pressure affects me that much during the race. Whether it affects me before? Kind of. But it does affect me after, I can tell you that.”
Her longtime SOFLO coach Chris Anderson made the trip to worlds to coach Atkinson and will then return to take four SOFLO swimmers to junior nationals to close out the year.
“I would love to say my priority at worlds is to come out better than I was going in, that would be really good,” Atkinson said. “It’s probably to medal in all four events, that would be the priority. And also execute a race as close to perfect as I can. If everything goes well it should be close enough to win or get a world record.”
Atkinson is one of twenty-eight swimmers, who train in Florida, from nineteen countries. The biennial event features 1,100 swimmers from 171 countries.
Atkinson knows she is a role model not only for her SOFLO teammates but internationally, particularly in Jamaica where the sport still struggles to grab headlines from track and field and bobsledding.
“For Jamaica swimming is seasonal, especially with the media and the whole population,” Atkinson said. “They are going to support the minor sports swimming, bobsled, karate and judo but it’s all of them at once so swimming never really gets highlighted. It’s all the minor sports and then track.
“Whether swimming gets headlines it will probably be after I do something after a major competition,” Atkinson said. “But throughout the year probably not. It’s better than before but we have a long way to go.”
Universal Sports Network will televise the meet over ten hours beginning with Wednesday night’s broadcast at 8 p.m. The two-hour daily highlight shows will feature the best of each day’s races.
FLORIDA SWIMMERS AT WORLD SHORT COURSE
Max Abreu, Paraguay, Bolles
Marcelo Acosta, El Salvador, Azura Florida Aquatics
Alia Atkinson, Jamaica, South Florida Aquatic Club
Jevon Atkinson, Jamaica, South Florida Aquatic Club
Valentina Artemevia, Russia, Bolles
Elizabeth Beisel, United States, Gator Swim Club
Elvis Burrows, Bahamas, Orlando
Marcin Cieslak, Poland, Gator Swim Club
Carolina Colorado, Colombia, Bolles
Mitch D’Arrigo, Italy, Gator Swim Club
Brett Fraser, Cayman Islands, Florida/Bolles
Patrick Groters, Aruba, Pine Crest Swim Team
Talisa Lanoe, Kenya, Performance Aquatics (PAQ)
Ryan Lochte, Daytona Beach, United States
Hilda Luthersdottir, Iceland, Gator Swim Club
Melanie Margalis, United States, St. Petersburg Aquatics/Clearwater
Noah Mascoll-Gomes, Antigua & Barbuda, Azura
Jorge Murillo, Colombia, Bolles
Vien Nguyen, Vietnam, St. Augustine Swim Team Cyclones
Chinyere Pigot, Suriname, Metro Aquatics
Zuhayr Pigot, Suriname, Metro Aquatics
Jared Pike, South Africa, Club Seminole
Omar Pinzon, Colombia, Bolles
Sebastien Rousseau, South Africa, Gator Swim Club
Pavel Sankovich, Belarus, Club Seminole
Mario Todorivic, Croatia, Bolles
Rafael Van Leeuwaarde, Suriname, Florida State
Ariel Weech, Bahamas, Orlando
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com