By Sharon Robb
August 4, 2015—Alia Atkinson enjoyed one of her finest moments in swimming Tuesday at the XVI FINA World Aquatic Championships at Kazan Arena.
The three-time Jamaican Olympian became the first Jamaican swimmer in history to win a long course world championship medal.
Against the best breaststrokers in the world, Atkinson took a bronze medal in the 100-meter breaststroke in 1:06.42, just off her new national record of 1:06.21 she set in Monday’s semifinals to earn the third seed and just 0.76 out of first.
Russia’s Yuliya Efimova won the gold medal in 1:05.66 and Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte took the silver medal in 1:06.36. Iceland’s Hilda Luthersdottir of Gator Swim Club was sixth in 1:07.10.
Efimova won her first major international gold medal just five months after completing a 16-month suspension for steroids.
Atkinson, the reigning world short course champion and record holder, is the only Jamaican swimmer to win medals in both the long course and short course world championships.
Atkinson had never medaled at a major international long course meet other than the Pan American Games (silver) and Commonwealth Games (bronze).
“It’s been part of the plan since the Short Course World Championships,” said her longtime coach Chris Anderson of South Florida Aquatic Club. “We worked on controlling her emotions and progressing through the rounds from prelims to semifinals and melding in the finals.
“This is a huge step with 367 days left to Rio,” said Anderson, also the Jamaican national coach. “Alia is on the right track.”
Atkinson was all smiles during the medal ceremony and on her way back to the Athletes Village where congratulatory cards and flowers were waiting for her.
“I am very proud of this bronze medal,” Atkinson said. “It’s not easy to go three rounds successfully. But to end off the third with a field full of the best breaststrokers in the world is a step in the right direction.”
In Tuesday’s championships finals:
Teenager Katie Ledecky lowered her own world record in the 1500-meter freestyle to win the gold medal in 15:25.48, less than 24 hours after breaking it in Monday’s qualifier in 15:27.71.
Ledecky built a 14.66-second cushion ahead of silver medalist Lauren Boyle of New Zealand in 15:50.15. Boglarka Kapas of Hungary took the bronze in 15:47.09.
Ledecky’s world record is 24 seconds faster than the men’s qualifying time of 15:49.99 for the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials.
Twenty-nine minutes later, Ledecky returned to the pool for the 200-meter freestyle semifinal which she finished third in her heat in 1:56.76. Her last 50-meter split was 30.25 enabling her to qualify sixth and make Wednesday’s final. Missy Franklin was top qualifier.
“It was a little nerve wracking being behind quite a few of those girls,” Ledecky said. “I just knew I had to finish hard and get my hand on the wall. I knew I could get my hand on the wall before a couple of those girls in my heat. My legs felt better than my arms so I knew I had to kick.
“That was a lot harder than I was hoping it would be,” Ledecky said. “I only have 2,000 meters left of racing this week.”
In the biggest shock of the day, Missy Franklin finished fifth in the 100-meter backstroke in 59.40. She was 1.14 seconds behind Aussie Emily Seebohm, winning her first individual world title in her fifth Worlds appearance in 58.26.
Franklin had a disastrous start and was in last place at the turn. Down the stretch she was unable to catch silver medalist Madison Wilson of Australia in 58.75 and bronze medalist Mie Oe Nielsen of Denmark in 58.86.
The U.S. has won only four medals in three days in Kazan with five days remaining. It is the lowest medal total at an Olympics or World Championships in the last 50 years dating back to the 1994 World Championships where the U.S. took home 21 medals.
Wednesday’s women’s events are 50-meter backstroke heats and semifinals; 200-meter butterfly heats and semifinal; mixed medley 4×100 relay heats and final; and 200-meter freestyle final.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org