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Marvellous Alia Atkinson

Alia Atkinson may not have won a medal for her exploits in the Olympic pool on Monday, July 30,tonight but her gusty performance in placing fourth in the 100 metres women’s breast stroke earned her a lot of respect from the international community here at the London Olympics. It has been an amazing week for Jamaica’s premier swimmer who repeatedly lowered her national record for this distance in powering her way into the finals.

Judging from the attention she got from many of the journalists who watched the race, Alia has underlined her country’s reputation for relishing competition on the international stage, one that is not necessarily limited to fast track sprinters.

New arrangements for tickets to the swimming finals resulted in only some of the journalists on Jamaica’s team gaining access to the Aquatic Centre for the evening’s events. Hence getting to Alia for post race interviews presented some challenge as she was virtually mobbed by international journalists in search of their own soundbites. The post race attention she got was remarkable given the focus on the 15-year old winner Ruta Meilutyte from Lithuania who not only led from start to finish in posting the eight fastest ever time in history, but created further history by becoming the first swimmer from her country to win an Olympic medal. Hence she had been, in many respects, the centre of attention in the days leading up to the finals.

Atkinson’s performances all week have been an inspiration in the Jamaica camp with one person suggesting that the track and field stars who have yet to open their competition should be encouraged to turn out to watch her performances through the rounds. Although she was technically the slowest qualifier for the finals and drawn in lane eight, her confidence never wavered. “I am much more confident going into the finals,” she had said the previous day. She certainly kept her cool in the drama brought about by a technical false start that had delayed the race for a few minutes.

In placing 4th, Alia not only equalled the best ever performance by a Jamaican swimmer at the Olympics and becoming the second Jamaican Atkinson to achieve at this very high level, but she also had the distinction of leading home Australia’s Leisel Jones, the defending Olympic champion who won a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games when she (Leisel) was 15.

There was some speculation that the Jamaican may have been negatively affected by the swim-off that she had to do the previous day. However, Martin Lyn, ‪President of the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ) and manager of the swim team at the London Olympics, readily dismissed such thoughts. In his view Alia was in excellent shape and highly motivated. “Alia’s accomplishments in London will do a lot of good for our swimming programme back in Jamaica,” he said and “this is definitely a welcome development.” There are expectations that Alia will maintain her form in her next two events: the 200 metres breaststroke, which starts on Wednesday and which had traditionally before 2012 been her best event; and also in the 50 metres freestyle which starts on Friday.