Alia Atkinson's inspiring effort needs support

Thursday, August 02, 2012

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SHE didn't win a medal, but Miss Alia Atkinson's fourth place finish in the final of the women's 100-metre breast stroke will go down as among the major feats by Jamaican athletes at the London Olympics.

From a Jamaican perspective, all the talk entering these Games was in relation to track and field. That's understandable, for apart from cyclist Mr David Weller's mind-boggling 1000-metre time trial bronze at the Moscow Olympics of 1980, no Jamaican has ever won an Olympic medal outside of athletics.

Like Mr Weller, 32 years ago, Miss Atkinson entered these Olympic Games against a backdrop of woefully inadequate resources, compared to her competitors.

Like Mr Weller, the cyclist, Miss Atkinson the swimmer was competing in a sport in which Jamaica has very little standing internationally. We make the point, even while recognising that in 2000 Ms Janelle Atkinson placed fourth in the 400m freestyle and that back in 1984 Mr Andrew Phillips was sixth in the 200m individual medley.

Forced to do a swim-off in order to get to the final, the 17th-ranked Miss Atkinson would not be distracted or deterred and in the great tradition of Jamaican womanhood left the rest of us in awe.

Hers will forever be remembered as an extraordinary achievement against great odds. Hopefully the value of her fourth-place finish will extend to the greater good of the sport with far more attention to Jamaican swimming than has been the case up to now.

The savvy Miss Atkinson is already making her case for more support for the 2016 Games. "If you want me to get that medal in 2016 I need financial support. I would really like to continue swimming for Jamaica and continue to 2016 and get that medal I promised so many years ago, but I do need the help," she said.

Miss Atkinson identified inadequate resources as the reason other promising swimmers had stopped competing after completing college in the United States, including national record holder in the 50m free style, Ms Natasha Moodie.

This newspaper applauds the quick response from Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has pledged to "speak to the ministers of finance and education and the Sports Development Foundation" and has appealed to the private sector, saying "we have to partner to allow her to continue her training programme".

We trust that private sector companies will answer the call.

More to the point, we feel, Government and private sector need to develop serious partnerships in building a comprehensive and sustainable sporting programme for Jamaica. We agree entirely with former Prime Minister Mr PJ Patterson that sports can be an important tool as Jamaica seeks to dig its way out of the current economic mire.

Mr Patterson is reported in the Tuesday Observer as saying that Jamaica and its Caribbean neighbours need to look beyond traditional means of economic advancement to sport, culture and entertainment.

"Niche areas of sports and culture linked with tourism, linked with the services sector... this is something that is related to the path of our future development," Mr Patterson said.

We totally agree.




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