By Sharon Robb
CLERMONT, April 28, 2021—Four-time Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson heads a fast field for the UANA Tokyo Qualifier that gets under way Thursday at Orlando Health National Training Center.
The four-day meet, hosted by Azura Florida Aquatics and Montverde Academy Swimming, has attracted 300 swimmers and 74 teams from 60 nations.
As a FINA-approved event, swimmers who participate will be eligible to qualify for the July 23-August 8 Tokyo Olympic Games; Sept. 9-19 Junior Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia; Dec. 15-20 FINA SCM World Championships in Abu Dhabi and May 13-29, 2022 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.
“The UANA Tokyo Qualifier is a significant opportunity for swimmers throughout the world to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games,” said Dale Neuberger, newly-named FINA Treasurer. “With athletes from over 60 countries competing, the state of Florida has established itself as an important and desirable location for international competition.”
UANA (Union Americana de Natación) is the international governing body in the Western Hemisphere for amateur aquatics. UANA is one of five continental regions within FINA.
Recently, Atkinson was named an an athlete member to the UANA Technical Committee for swimming through 2023.
Atkinson, 32, one of the oldest swimmers in the meet, has already qualified for her fifth Olympics in Tokyo in her signature 100-meter breaststroke event.
In addition to the 100-meter breaststroke, Atkinson is also entered in the 50-meter butterfly, 50-meter breaststroke and 100-meter butterfly. She is seeded first in the 50-meter butterfly (26.61) and breaststroke (30.58) events, second in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.00) and third in the 100-meter butterfly (1:00.87).
She will be joined by four other SOFLO teammates: Mariangela Cincotti Serafini, 17, and Andrea Santander, 19, both of Venezuela; Julio Horrego, 22, of Honduras and Leo Mateus, 19, of Colombia.
All five swimmers are representing SOFLO.
Horrego is entered in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events and is an Olympic hopeful. Horrego represented Honduras at the Central American and Caribbean Games where he was fifth in the 200 breast in 2:16.40 and eighth in the 200 IM in 2:05.40. At the 2018 CCCAN meet he won the 100 breast (1:03.30); 200 breaststroke (2:20.87) and 200 IM (2:04.85). He was a two-time high school state champion at Mater Academy and former Florida State swimmer.
Cincotti Serafini, headed to Drexel University in the fall, will swim the 100, 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events. She will graduate from Nova Southeastern University School where she qualified for the state meet as a junior and broke school records in the 200 and 500 freestyles. She is a member of Venezuela’s national team and has competed in the Pan American and South American Games. In 2018, she qualified for the Open Water Junior World Championships in Eilat. She is a member of two Venezuelan national age group relay records.
Santander, a former Broward County High School Swimmer of the Year and state champion for Pine Crest, earned a scholarship to University of Southern California her senior year. As a junior, she represented Venezuela in international meets including the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires at age 16. She has competed in five international meets, her first three 17-18 meets and junior worlds. Santander is entered in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyles and 200-meter individual medley.
Mateus, an Everglades High School alum currently enrolled at Yale, swims for the Colombian Swimming Federation and has limited international experience. He is entered in the 200-meter backstroke and breaststroke events and 200- and 400-meter individual medleys.
Miguel Cancel, who trains at SOFLO when he’s not attending and swimming at University of Florida, is competing unattached for Florida. Cancel, a Gulliver Prep alum where he won four individual state titles, has competed on the international scene for Puerto Rico. Among his events are the 50 butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke sprints and 200 and 400 IM.
Also competing are SOFLO’s Juan Colmenares, 17, and Javier Colmenares, 14, representing Venezuela and competing for international meet experience.
There will be several other familiar faces with Florida ties in the meet.
Aruba’s Patrick Groters, 22, coached by his brother Jordy, is a NSU University School alum. Their mother is UANA President Maureen Croes.
“I am extremely pleased with the event that UANA, together with Azura, Montverde, Orlando Health National Training Center and Greater Orlando Sports Commission, put together in a very short time,” Croes said.
“Organization of any sporting event during the pandemic is very challenging and requires more attention to details to ensure our athletes and coaches are able to do what they do best safely. I am grateful to all involved, as cooperation and willingness to support has been beyond my wildest dreams.”
Pine Crest will have a talented group of swimmers led by 16-year-old U.S. Olympic trials qualifier Julia Podkoscielny.
Host Azura has a large contingent entered led by El Salvador Olympian Marcelo Acosta, 24. He was the first swimmer from El Salvador to qualify for the Olympics with an “A” cut in 2016.
St. Andrew’s alum Izaak Bastian, 20, swimming unattached for Florida State, is representing the Bahamas as a member of the national team and national record holder.
On Thursday timed finals session begins 5 p.m. Events are women’s 1500-meter freestyle, men’s 800-meter freestyle and men’s and women’s 50-meter butterfly, 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter breaststroke. Friday through Sunday, prelims are 9 a.m. and finals 5 p.m.
The meet is being shown on the Pan Am Sports TV channel available on an app which can be downloaded for free on various devices.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org