By Sharon Robb
July 22—South Florida Aquatic Club’s Alia Atkinson is ready to make history at the 20th Commonwealth Games.
The three-time Olympian for Jamaica begins her bid for medal glory when the Games get under way Wednesday with the Opening Ceremonies at Celtic Park in Glasgow, Scotland
Diving is the opening aquatic event. Swimming begins on Thursday and runs through July 29 at Tollcross International Swimming Centre.
Under the watchful eye of her longtime club coach, SOFLO head coach Chris Anderson, who is serving as the Jamaica team coach, Atkinson will attempt to win her country’s first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
“She has three chances at it,” said Anderson, who wrapped up a week-long training camp in Corby, England and arrived in Scotland on Monday with the team.
Atkinson will compete in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events. Her first race is the 50-meter breaststroke on Thursday with the heat and semifinal rounds and final on Friday.
Atkinson, 25, is the first Jamaican to medal at a major international tournament taking a silver in the 50-meter breaststroke at the FINA World Short Course Championships.
“I’m excited that the 200-meter is back, so I am definitely looking forward to trying to medal in the 50, 100 and 200,” Atkinson said. “I just need to get that 100 down and work that second 50.
“I don’t get to compete against Australia and the UK a lot so I am excited for that,” Atkinson said. “Plus, I only have half the world to worry about at the Commonwealth Games.”
At the 2012 London Olympics, Atkinson just missed a medal finishing fourth in the 100-meter breaststroke. Since then she has had a meteoric rise worldwide doing well on both the FINA World Cup and USA Grand Prix series. She also recently signed with Speedo, which is a major sponsor of the Commonwealth Games.
Atkinson is in the best shape of her life. At the USA Grand Prix Mesa, she won the 200-meter breaststroke in 2:25.52, breaking her own national record of 2:28.34 set in February.
“I know it’s been a long time for her 200 to click,” Anderson said. “She is really beginning to understand the patience of the race. That put her in the world rankings, it was a world-class race.
“She is starting to emerge as the best 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke swimmer in the world. She’s getting there.”
Atkinson will be joined by Jevon Atkinson, who came out of retirement to represent Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games. Atkinson (no relation to Alia) trained with Anderson from 2004-2008 and qualified for the 2008 Olympics.
Other Jamaican swimmers are Zara Bailey, Trudi Ann Patrick, Dominic Walter and Timothy Wynter, a rising star in Jamaica who is training with Anderson at SOFLO.
The last Jamaican female swimmer to medal at the Commonwealth Games was two-time Olympian Janelle Atkinson-Wignall (no relation to Alia Atkinson) in 2002 when she took bronze medals in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles. On Monday, Atkinson-Wignall was named head coach at Fairfield University becoming the program’s first-ever woman coach.
Also at the Commonwealth Games, Bolles coach Sergio Lopez will coach the Singapore team including Bolles swimmer Joseph Schooling.
Dylan Carter and George Bovell will represent Trinidad and Tobago.
Carter, 18, is making his Commonwealth Games debut. Carter, a sophomore at University of Southern California, used to train in South Florida with the now-defunct Davie Nadadores and attended Plantation American Heritage.
Bovell, a four-time Olympian, is a 2002 Bolles alum.
Other swimmers with Florida ties:
BAHAMAS: Mckayla Lightbourn, Sarasota and Florida State; Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, Bolles alum.
BARBADOS: Lani Cabrera, Miami, Florida Gulf Coast alum, former Davie Nadadores.
CANADA: Sinead Russell, University of Florida.
CAYMAN ISLANDS: Brett Fraser, Florida Alum.
The Commonwealth Games are held every four years (July 23-August 3). The International, multi-sport event is for 4,500 athletes from 70 participating Commonwealth nations competing in 21 different disciplines.
Swimming power Australia is bringing most of its best swimmers. Canada, South Africa and Great Britain will also be strong.
It is the third largest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics and Asian Games and third time Scotland has hosted the Games (1970, 1986).
The U.S. will not be televising or live streaming the major meet. However, Canada CBC will live stream it on its website and BBC is televising as well along with radio coverage.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org