Alia Atkinson (Courtesy Jamaica Olympics Facebook page)
Not even Alia Atkinson could believe the feat she had accomplished. Mouth agape in surprise, she stared at the scoreboard that acknowledged her historic victory in the 100m breaststroke at the world short course swimming championships. The 25-year-old Jamaican went into the race as the second favorite to Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania. But Atkinson snatched the gold, not only equaling her 17-year-old rival’s world record of 1:02:36 but also making history as the first Black woman to hold a world title in the pool and garnering the first gold medal in the sport for her Caribbean country.
“In the last 25m, I made sure the pull-out was the best, I really wanted to get that momentum coming up and I think I did that for the most part,” Atkinson told the official FINA website.
“While I was going up I realised I was catching up so I was just trying to get a good finish,” she added. “I’m not used to seeing my name up in No. 1 so it was kind of a shock, but a good one.”
Two days before, on Day 2 of the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar, the 50m breaststroke finished in reverse, with Atkinson claiming silver to Meilutyte’s gold.
This is not the first competitive meeting between the pair. The swimmers battled it out in the pool at the London Olympics, where the Lithuanian won gold in the 100m and the Jamaican star came in fourth.
Atkinson joins fellow Caribbean native Enith Brigitha in the history-making annals of the sport. Brigitha, who was born in Curaçao, represented the Netherlands in international contests during the 1970s, when she became the first Black woman to earn world records in swimming.
Brigitha won four bronze medals in the 1973 and 1975 world championships and took bronze medals in both the 100m and 200m freestyle events at the 1976 Montreal Olympics behind two East German winners, who later admitted to doping, according to Sports-Reference.com.