It is easy to conclude that Alia Atkinson's amazing display in the 100 metres breaststroke in the Olympics on Monday has propelled her into becoming a world celebrity in swimming.
Every Jamaican I have since run into here in the Olympic community could talk of little else but her courageous performance. I gather that her list of Facebook friends jumped from less than 30 to close to 500 in one night. In fact, Usain Bolt is the only other Jamaican who is more discussed on Twitter in the last 48 hours.
The giant ESPN network, although not an IOC rights holder, provides daily highlights in which they have included her performance. The interesting thing about the ESPN's coverage is that they have not mentioned a number of several silver and bronze medal winners in their reports.
Equally mind-boggling has been the outpouring of support from athletes in London, including celebrities, such as Asafa Powell, DJ superstar Sean Paul, who was reported to shed tears, and of course Bolt.
Paul represented Jamaica in swimming at the junior level at the CARIFTA championships. I gather that other athletes on the team watched her performance with great interest while rooting passionately for her. She certainly got their attention and has cemented her place as a major force on the team. We can only hope that her success serves to inspire other non track and field Jamaican sportsmen and women to work hard to achieve international success.
I do believe that much of the global spotlight now on Alia, is not so much because she placed fourth in a highly competitive race, but because of the quality of the duel in which she was engaged for the eighth spot in the final. That fourth place tie in the semis may have been a blessing in disguise. It certainly underlined her fitness and competitive spirit.
Earlier yesterday I spoke to both Alia and the manager for the swim team Martin Lyn. Both of whom are united in the opinion about what is needed to take her to the medal-winning level. Both affirmed that she needs much more quality international competition and not just on the North American circuit. Lyn said that she had never before swum against the winner Ruta Meilutyte, the 15-year-old sensation from Lithuania, although she had seen her in competitions previously. Also, besides the Americans, there are so many great swimmers from Australia and the European countries, exposure to whom in the pool would enhance her chances significantly. The bottom line of course is funds.
The Swimming Association President told me also that they have crafted a four-year development programme that requires approximately US$320,000 or J$28M. This is an amount that Bolt probably makes in three appearances on the track and field circuit these days.
Now that Alia and the national swimming programme have the attention of the country, if not the world, this is the chance for any enlightened sponsor or sponsors to jump on board. This is certainly the moment to be ceded with Alia as a springboard while taking the whole swimming programme along with the programme. Puma did set a useful precedence in 2004 when they decided to sponsor Usain Bolt while he was still very young. Look at where he is now and what he means to that corporation!
One indication of the value of sponsorship was evident in the contribution she gained, however minimal, from the new high-tech textile swimsuit she was given in which to compete at these Olympics. Both herself and her manger suggested that this was of value in this London campaign. "It is a little easier to stay on top of the water in that suit as it adds a small degree of flotation," she told the media in a post race interview.
There can't be many who would not by now concede that she has the ability to become Jamaica's first global medallist in swimming given the quality of competition she now craves.
The reality is that Alia has always been seen with greater potential in the 200 metres more than in the 100 metres breaststroke. Hence it is natural for many to feel that whatever she has achieved in the 100 she should be capable of bettering in the 200. The reality, however, may be a bit different. It is going to be extremely difficult, although not impossible, in this Olympic competition for her to get back in such a strong medal-challenging situation. We already know that as one of the competitors who achieved the lower 'B' standard for entry, she is expected to be placed in a heat that has slower or no ceded swimmers. Hence, it will not be enough to just win her heat, she will have to win big. To do this, she will need to swim her own race while totally ignoring others in the pool in order to achieve the qualifying time for the semi final round. Setting your own pace in a race is never easy going. Nevertheless, the world knows now that this is one Jamaican warrior that has nerves of steel which should again be in evidence today at the Aquatic Centre here in London.