After her final race at the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m), Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson called time on her illustrious career. The five-time Olympian and 12-time FINA global medalist, Atkinson leaves the pool as the world record holder in both the 50m and 100m Breaststroke. FINA met up with a defining breaststroker of this era following her announcement in Abu Dhabi.
ABU DHABI (UAE) - “If you have a lane, you have a chance,” Atkinson said in the farewell interview.
Alia’s Long Course International Career
Atkinson turned talent into opportunity, starting by making her Olympic debut at the Athens 2004 Games at age 15.
At the Athens Olympics, Atkinson competed in the 50m and 100m Breaststroke, placing 44th and 32nd. Four years later in Beijing, she’d nudged her top Olympic performance up to 25th in the 200m Breaststroke. Atkinson’s Olympic breakthrough came at the London 2012 Games when she just missed the 100m Breaststroke podium, swimming a 1:06.96 for fourth place. The performance matched Janelle Atkinson’s fourth-place finish in the 400m Freestyle during the Sydney 2000 Games, Jamaica’s highwater mark in Olympic swimming.
Atkinson returned to the 100m Breaststroke final at the Rio 2016 Olympics, finishing eighth. She then concluded her Olympics career in the 100m Breaststroke prelims at Tokyo 2020, finishing 22nd overall.
At the 16th FINA World Championships, Atkinson pulled off a double medal run in Kazan, taking silver in the 50m Breaststroke and adding bronze in the 100m.
“I wanted to do something that Jamaican hadn’t done before,” Atkinson explained. “After 2012 and I did get fourth, it was more of, ‘what is Alia capable of?’ What can I do in the sport that I never even expected to do – or event thought or dreamt of.”
Alia’s Short Course International Career
While Atkinson matched Jamaica’s highwater point in the 50m pool, it’s in short course where she was dominant and retires as the world record holder in both the 50m and 100m Breaststroke. She first set the 50m standard in 2016 with 28.64 seconds, breaking Jessica Hardy’s 28.80-second standard. In 2018, Atkinson lowered it again to 28.56 seconds, which still stands.
In the 100m Breaststroke, Atkinson matched the world record with Lithuanian Olympic Champion Ruta Meilutyte during the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha in 2014. Atkinson’s golden Doha performance marked the first time an Afro-Jamaican won an individual world swimming title. Atkinson’s career short course accolades include four gold medals amongst 10 total medals, all individual.
Alia’s defining traits: Grit, Tenacity, Perseverance
To find Atkinson’s level of performance over nearly two decades of international competition takes grit dedication. Or, as the swimmer hailing from St. Andrew Parish, Jamaica, puts it – tenacity.
“I’m most proud of my tenacity,” the Texas A&M alum told FINA: “It has not always been fun. It’s definitely a tear-jerker and a mental fight. Something I definitely learned is to persevere. If it’s your dream, if it’s something that you really want to achieve, do it – no matter what.
“No matter what comes in your way, if it’s a torn suit, if it’s people not believing in you, if it’s you not believing in you, you have to know how much your dream is worth," Atkinson added. "Fight for every single chance because you do deserve it. If you have a lane, you have a chance.”
Athletes react to Alia’s retirement
“I am happy to say I finished every ounce of swimming talent God gave me, the bottle empty,” Atkinson wrote in her retirement post. “Many times I wanted to quit or give up, but I saw it through to the end.”
The retiring 33-year-old’s career resonated with contemporaries like USA’s Annie Lazor, who wrote, ”You’ve been a trailblazing athlete in and out of the pool, as well as a shining example of class and professionalism. It’s a privilege to be your teammate and friend 🦁💚.”
Fellow Olympic finalist Rachel Nicol of Canada added: “There are no words I can use to describe how grateful I am to have met you, raced with you and be able to call you friend.
From the Olympic final racing side by side to our “Queen” waves at Commonwealth Games, thank you for making so many international experiences ones I can look back on with a smile and a laugh.
You are truly so inspiring and have such amazing things in store. Your future is so bright Alia and I’m so excited to see what comes next for you. You’re going to rock it no matter what! Congratulations on an incredible swimming career ❤️.”
“Jamaica’s most outstanding swimmer”
Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Oliva Grange hailed Atkinson as Jamaica’s most outstanding swimmer, adding, that “the Jamaican nation has nothing but praise for Alia Atkinson.”
“I wish Alia Atkinson all the best in retirement. But I hope it will not be total retirement because she has so much on to pass to those coming after her. Alia, we will miss you but you have certainly done your bit for Jamaica. God bless.”