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Alia Atkinson - Stellar Athlete and Swimming Sensation

Alia Atkinson Jamaican

by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer

They say all good things must come to an end and so it is with our Jamaican swimming sensation and superstar Alia Atkinson who recently announced her retirement on her Instagram page. This announcement follows her last race, finishing fourth at the FINA 2021 World Short Course Swimming Championships. She was disappointed with her 4th place finish but she stated that she gave it all she had, even at times when she felt like giving up.

She did give a hint back in 2020 at the Olympic games that 2021 would possibly be the year she would retire. As with any career she has faced moments of disappointment but also overwhelming satisfaction. This Jamaican swimming superstar has made history time and time again and so I would like to do justice by summarizing her life story and highlighting aspects of her 20-year long illustrious career.

Her swimming mission as per her SwimSwam bio is noted below:

To place Jamaica on the world map of swimming; to agitate for the improvement of the infrastructural support for swimming in Jamaica to be able to take it to the next level; and to realize my full potential for myself, my parents, and my country.

The Journey
  • Alia Atkinson, OD was born in Roehampton in the parish of St. James, Jamaica on December 11, 1988. She began swimming at the tender age of just three years old and at the age of 12 she migrated to Florida, the USA with her family.

  • At 13 years old, she decided to focus on the breaststroke form of swimming rather than the freestyle and butterfly that she swam mostly.

  • She trained with the South Florida Aquatic Club swim team in an Olympic-size swimming pool under the guidance of Chris Anderson who was her coach since 2001.

  • At 15 years old and a high school junior, she made her Olympic debut at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Here she competed in the 50m freestyle with an overall ranking of 44th and the 100m breaststroke with an overall ranking of 32nd. From here her career would take off, taking her to depths of greatness.

  • In 2010 she earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University, she had majored in Psychology while she was in college.

Her Achievements

There is just so much to mention here, but in a nutshell:
  1. She is the first black woman to ever win an individual world swimming title when she tied the world record in 2014 in the short course 100m breaststroke with a time of 1:02:36, becoming the second woman to swim such a time.

  2. She is a five-time Olympian representing Jamaica in 2004, in Greece, where she placed 32nd in the 100-meter breaststroke. In 2008 in Beijing, she placed 25th in the 200-meter breaststroke. In 2012, at the London Olympics, she came in very close at 4th, just missing the bronze medal by just one-half of a second with a time of 1:06.93. In 2016, in Rio, Brazil she returned to competing in the 100-meter breaststroke and placed 8th in the finals. Finally in 2020, in Tokyo, Japan she finished 3rd in her heat but did not make it to the finals.

  3. Though she did not get an Olympic medal, she has won many long course medals in the breaststroke including:
    • A 50m silver and a 100m bronze at the 2015 World Championships
    • A 50m silver at the 2014 and 2018 Common Wealth Games
    • A 100m bronze at the 2018 Common Wealth Games
    • A silver medal in the 200m individual medley at the 2011 Pan American Games
    • A silver medal in the 100m 2015 Pan American Games

    She dominated and won many medals in short course international championships, breaking records in the process including:
    • A gold medal in the 100m breaststroke, Doha, 2014
    • A gold medal in the 100m breaststroke, Windsor, 2016
    • A gold medal in the 100m breaststroke, Hangzhou, 2018
    • A gold medal in the 50m breaststroke, Hangzhou, 2018
    • A silver medal in the 50m breaststroke, Instabul, 2012
    • A silver medal in the 100m breaststroke, Instabul, 2012
    • A silver medal in the 50m breaststroke, Doha, 2014
    • A silver medal in the 50m breaststroke, Windsor, 2016
    • A bronze medal in the 100m medley, Windsor, 2016
    • A bronze medal in the 100m medley, Hangzhou, 2018
    • Breaking the records for both the 50m and 100m breaststroke
    • Setting the record for the 50m breaststroke in 2016 with a flashing time of 28.64 seconds
    • Breaking her own record for the 50m breaststroke in 2018 with another flashing time of 28.56 which still stands today. These two times are still the fastest in history for this event.

  4. She also holds the 2014 100m breaststroke world record which she shares with the Lithuanian Olympic Champion, Ruta Meilutyte.

  5. She has been awarded the title of Jamaican Sportswoman of the Year three times.

    Additional Awards and Honours

    • In 2014 she was awarded the Swammy Award: Central American & Caribbean Female Athlete of the Year.
    • In 2014 she was awarded Jamaican Sportsperson of the Year for Swimming.
    • In 2015 she was awarded the Swammy Award: Central American & Caribbean Female Athlete of the Year.
    • In 2016 she was awarded the Swammy Award: Central American & Caribbean Female Athlete of the Year.
    • In April 2018, she was selected to serve as Jamaica’s flag-bearer at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She was the lone swimmer representing the country at the Games.
    • In October 2018, Atkinson received the fifth highest honour in Jamaica, the Order of Distinction, Rank of Commander from the Governor-General.
    • In 2018 she was awarded the Swammy Award: Central American & Caribbean Female Athlete of the Year.
    • In 2019, Atkinson was inducted into the Texas A&M Athletics Hall of Fame.
    • In 2019 she was awarded the Swammy Award: Central American & Caribbean Female Athlete of the Year.
    • In December 2020, Atkinson was declared a champion ambassador to the Special Olympics with her outreach efforts focusing on the Caribbean Community.
    • In 2020 she was awarded the Swammy Award: Central American & Caribbean Female Athlete of the Year.
    • She was among the SwimSwam Top 100 (Women's) for 2021 (ranking at #56).
    • In November 2021, Alia Atkinson received an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, from the University of the West Indies.

    What an accomplishment for a 33-year-old distinguished swimming veteran! A truly proud daughter of Jamaica and definitely one to be emulated. Kudos Alia, you made us proud! Happy retirement and you can always come home to soak up some warm sunshine and enjoy a swim in our warm, pristine clear blue waters anytime!

    I also recommend you read, The Top Jamaican Sports A Quick Overview.


    • Alia Atkinson calls time on illustrious swimming career, Stabroek News,
    • Alia Atkinson, Wikipedia,
    • Alia Atkinson announces retirement from swimming, Loop Jamaica,

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