By Sharon Robb
TOKYO, Japan, July 25, 2021–Alia Atkinson, the most decorated swimmer in Jamaica, competed in her final Olympic race Sunday at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Making her fifth Olympic appearance, the longtime South Florida Aquatic Club swimmer saw her medal hopes end in her opening heat of the 100-meter breaststroke.
Atkinson finished third in 1:07.70, falling short of the semifinal round of 16. She had a slight lead at the halfway mark in 31.48 after an 0.67 reaction time off the blocks, but faded down the finish with a split time of 36.22.
The fastest event qualifier was South African Tatjana Schoenmaker, who broke American Lilly King’s five-year old Olympic record in 1:04.82. The women’s final is Monday.
Atkinson, at 32, one of oldest swimmers in the field, was hoping to add an Olympic medal to her already impressive swimming resume that includes three short course world records, 26 international medals including four short course World Championship gold medals, 14 long course and 11 short course national records.
“Not gonna lie, I may have teared up on this,” Atkinson wrote on her Facebook page.
“It’s funny. Looking back, the years went by so fast and before I realized it, I was looking at the end of it,” Atkinson said after her race.
“Would I give it all up for an Olympic medal?” and honestly, I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything. All the ups and downs has made me who I am today ( though at times it feels like there were more downs than ups), but it taught me how to get up and God taught me how to smile through it all.
“My x5 Olympic journey ends here, but the Olympic medal is still waiting for some Jamaican girl/boy to claim it. I know you can you, so keep pushing.
“I hope the road was/is less rocky for you; if so, then I have indeed succeeded. We have waited a long time for you, so thank you for staying true and carrying the fly high.”
After her race, she was deluged with appreciative fan mail on Facebook: “Proud of you Alia, thanks for representing us…your effort is always appreciated…well done on your long and illustrious career representing Jamaica…you have always given it your all…thank you for always representing Jamaica with humility and grace. You’ve had an amazing career. We are very proud of all you have done…You have been an awesome ambassador of Jamaica…one luv.”
It was a record fifth Olympic appearance for both Atkinson and her longtime SOFLO coach Chris Anderson. Atkinson will continue to swim in FINA World Cups, FINA World Championships in Doha, Qatar and International Swimming League for the UK-based London Roar in the pro league’s third season that opens Aug. 26 in Naples, Italy.
At the 2012 London Summer Olympics she was only the second Jamaican swimmer to place in the top four at an Olympic Games, finishing fourth in the 100 breaststroke. In 2016, she was eighth in the Rio Olympics.
In 2014, she was the second woman to swim a 1:02.36 in the short course 100-meter breaststroke tying the world record in the event. In 2016, Atkinson set a new world record in the short course 50-meter breaststroke. Two years later, in 2018, she set a new world record in the short course 50-meter breaststroke for the second time.
Martin Lyn, president of the Aquatics Sports Association of Jamaica, praised Atkinson to the local media before she raced.
“The fact is that her legacy is already set, she has done incredibly well for Jamaica,” Lyn said. “She has put Jamaica on the world stage, not just in what she has achieved, but basically in her performances as well.
“She has excelled in a sport that predominantly consists of Caucasians or Europeans. She has done extremely well, holding world records. Her name is already set and is secure in the annals of swimming history.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com