By Sharon Robb
February 11, 2015—The Arena Pro Swim Series in Orlando has attracted most of swimming’s top stars including Alia Atkinson, making her first appearance since tying a world record and winning gold in the world short course championships in Doha, Qatar.
The three-time Jamaican Olympian from South Florida Aquatic Club will return to competitive water on opening day when she competes in the 100-meter breaststroke, her signature event.
Atkinson, 25, took time off after worlds where she became the first black woman and Jamaican to win a gold medal in the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.36 to tie the world record which she shares with Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania. She was named Jamaica Sportswoman of the Year for the first time.
Atkinson is entered in four other events, the 100 and 200 freestyles, 100 butterfly and 200 breaststroke. She will also swim the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly on Thursday.
Atkinson will be joined by her new pro teammates who have been training with SOFLO.
SOFLO’s Bermuda national record holder Lisa Blackburn is one of the oldest swimmers entered at 43 along with Erika Braun of the Raleigh Marlins, also 43. She has been training well and swimming best times in local meets for SOFLO. Blackburn is training to make the FINA standard for Rio. Teammates and Former world and European champion Valentina Artemyeva and Jamaican Timothy Wynter, also training for Rio, will compete.
SOFLO’s top senior swimmers Kathleen Golding, Melissa Marinheiro, Julien Pinon and Jessica Rodriguez are also making the road trip to compete against some of the best swimmers in the world.
Elizabeth Beisel, Ryan Lochte, Katie Hoff and Conor Dwyer, all with Florida connections, head the star-studded lineup that also features Kosuke Kitajima, Mie Nielsen, Arkady Vyatchanin and Miguel Ortiz.
Beisel leads the women’s pro swim series standings with 33.5 points and Dwyer leads the men’s standings with 29 points.
Beisel is coming off a slight groin injury that forced her to drop out of the BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series in Australia.
Both are Florida alums and Beisel trains with the Gator Swim Club. Lochte of Daytona Beach is also a Florida alum and trains with SwimMAC.
The Florida Gold Coast will be well-represented in the three-day meet.
Three-time 2008 Olympic medalist Katie Hoff of Coral Gables-based Hurricane Aquatics heads the FGC contingent. Among other FGC swimmers competing are Megan Moroney and Rachael Bradford-Feldman of St. Andrew’s Swimming, Jennifer Marquez of Azura, Zu and Diguan Pigot of Miami Swimming.
The meet is the third stop on the 2014-15 Arena Pro Swim Series. Universal Sports Network will televise the meet on Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m.
The opening day events are 200 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly, 400 individual medley and 400 freestyle.
Swimmers are competing for $1,000 and five points for first, $600 for second and three points and $200 for third and one point. A total of $300,000 in prize money is being offered.
IF YOU Go
What: Orlando Arena Pro Swim Series
When: Thursday-Saturday, prelims 9 a.m., finals 6 p.m.
Where: YMCA Aquatic Center, 8422 International Drive, Orlando
Of Note: This is the third stop on the 2014-15 Arena Pro Swim Series. Prelims and finals will be live streamed at usaswimming.org. Universal Sports Network will air meet coverage on Thursday and Friday at 6 p.m.
Admission: $15 single session including heat sheet. All session pass is $65. Parking is $5 for each session. For information call 407-363-1911.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org