By Sharon Robb
December 6, 2014—In front of a cheering, capacity crowd waving Jamaican flags, Alia Atkinson made history on so many levels Saturday at the 12th FINA Short Course World Swimming Championships at Hamad Aquatic Center in Doha, Qatar.
The three-time Jamaican Olympian and longtime South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer became the first Jamaican to win a gold medal and tie the world record at a major international swim meet.
Atkinson, 25, out-touched reigning Olympic and defending champion Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania to win the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:02.36, also a meet record which Meilutyte had broken the day before in 1:02.43.
Meilutyte, 17, has held the world record since 2012 and now shares it with Atkinson, who has now beaten the teenager three times in the last two months.
It was also a national record for Atkinson, who has been knocking on the door for a world record in the past year. Her previous best and national record was 1:02.54.
Atkinson is also the first black woman to win a world swimming title in 40 years.
Atkinson and Meilutyte were neck-and-neck early in the race with Meilutyte leading slightly at the 50-meter mark (29.10-29.46). With great back-half speed and incredible turn at the 75-mark, Atkinson reeled her in to beat her by 1/10th of a second.
After Atkinson touched the wall she turned to look at the scoreboard. She threw her arms in the air when she saw that she had won and then looked stunned when she realized she had her first career world record.
“Me?” Atkinson screamed in utter joy. “I just didn’t know until I looked up, the race was so close. I have been getting closer and closer.
“Considering the 50 breaststroke and how it went I had to keep my head in check and told myself I could still turn it around, I am better in the 100,” Atkinson said. “I had to keep a positive outlook and for the most part I did pretty well so I am pretty excited about that.”
Still cloud-walking after the race, Atkinson later tweeted “world record holder baby! We did it. Team effort.”
Congratulatory Facebook messages started pouring in after her race. “Congrats to my fellow teammate and inspiration for the WORLD RECORD, you are a true idol for a lot of swimmers including myself, you are the best,” said French national age group champion Julien Pinon.
Atkinson now has a gold and silver medal with the 200-meter breaststroke next on Sunday. At the 2012 world short course championships, Atkinson finished with two silvers.
Four other world records were smashed on Saturday.
In the opening event, Russia’s relay team of Vladimir Morozov, Evgeny Sedov, Oleg Tikhobaev and Sergei Fesikov broke the world record in the 4×50-meter freestyle in 1:22.60. Russia held the previous record of 1:23.36. The U.S. team of Josh Schneider, Tom Shields, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte took the silver in 1:23.47.
France’s Florent Manaudou broke his second world and course records in the 50-meter backstroke in 22.22. The previous record was 22.61 set by American Peter Marshall wearing a shin suit in 2009.
Hungarian Katinka Hosszu continued her hot streak with another world and course record in the 200-meter individual medley in 2:01.86, her fourth gold medal. St. Petersburg’s Melanie Margalis, 22, took bronze in 2:06.68 after surging in the last half of the race. Margalis was fifth at the halfway mark before laying down a huge 30.02 freestyle split.
The U.S. team of Josh Schneider, Matt Grevers, Madison Kennedy and Abbey Weitzeil came from behind to break the world record in the 4×50-meter mixed freestyle relay in 1:28.57. The previous record of 1:29.53 was held by Russia.
South African Chad Le Clos broke the course record in the 50-meter butterfly to win in 21.95 on the heels of his gold and world record in the 100-meter butterfly.
Florida State’s Rafael Van Leeuwaarde of Surinam broke his third national record in three events. In his final event, he broke the 50-meter breaststroke record in 28.13. “Not what I wanted but a reason to come back and crush that time,” he said. “Three for three in Nattys. Big things ahead.”
Talisa Lanoe of Kenya and Boca Raton-based Performance Aquatics (PAQ) broke her second national record. She swam 1:04.46 in the 100-meter backstroke to better her own mark of 1:07.16. On Friday, she broke the 200-meter backstroke national record in 2:19.55.
The state of Florida has 27 nine swimmers, who train in Florida, representing 18 countries. The biennial event features 1,100 swimmers from 171 countries.
Universal Sports Network is televising the meet over ten hours with nightly broadcasts at 8 p.m. The two-hour daily highlight shows 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
Lani Cabrera, Barbados, Florida Gulf Coast
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
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
Omar Pinzon, Colombia, Bolles
Sebastien Rousseau, South Africa, Gator Swim Club
Mario Todorivic, Croatia, Bolles
Rafael Van Leeuwaarde, Suriname, Florida State
Ariel Weech, Bahamas, Orlando
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com