LONDON, England — Jamaica's Alia Atkinson will swim in today's final of the Olympic Games women's 100m breaststroke, set for 8:13 pm UK time (2:13 pm Jamaica time) after beating Canada's Tera Van Beilen in a swim off at the end of the swimming programme at the Aquatic Centre here at the Olympic Park in Stratford, London.
The 23-year-old clocked a national record one minute 06.79 seconds to beat the one minute 07.39 seconds she had set while winning her first-round heat in the morning and represented a massive drop from the one minute 08.45 seconds she swam in June to qualify for the Olympics.
The swim-off was forced after both swimmers had tied for fourth place in one minute 07.48 seconds in the first of two semi-final heats.
Atkinson, who was qualifying for her first Olympic final in her third Olympics, became the third Jamaican to qualify for an Olympic swimming final after Andrew Phillips made the final of the men's 200m Individual Medley in Los Angeles in 1984, placing sixth, and Janelle Atkinson finished fourth in the women's 400m in Sydney, Australia in 2000.
Instead of being disappointed by having to swim a third time for the day, Atkinson, who was obviously relieved when she faced the press, said the extra race actually helped her confidence going in to the final.
"I am much more confident going into the final," she said. "I think that if I never got that swim that I would be going in with the knowledge that I can only do (1 minute 07 seconds) and with the knowledge that I had to sprint the race as I did in the semis...I sprinted and died at the end and for the third swim I controlled it more like I did in the morning."
Additionally, she said after two good swims and one not so good she has been able to work out what her strategy will be for this evening's final. "I have more knowledge to just relax and take it out better, to swim just like the third race, I can't swim like the second race, as I will have a hard time coming into the wall, I just need to pace the race better and don't get too excited."
As she did in both previous races, Atkinson went out hard in the swim off, establishing a good lead over the 19-year-old Canadian and got to the turn at 31.12 seconds, her fastest first 50m of the day before extending her lead to a full body length by 80 metres to win easily.
Van Beilen was gracious in defeat, saying afterwards she did her best. "It's mentally hard coming off a race and knowing you had to do it again. I tried to get my head in the right place but it was a hard turn around and I gave it all I had in the pool."
The Canadian said she felt "blessed for the opportunity to swim again, it wasn't how I would have liked it to turn out but I gave it everything I had".
In the nearly two hours between both races, Atkinson said she spoke to her coach Chris Anderson, who told her not to worry about "one more swim" as he background of swimming the 200m race would give her the extra stamina she needed.
During the wait she said she drank a lot of water and was happy when a few of the presentation ceremonies were extended as they gave her more time to get rest before coming back for the swim.
Atkinson's feat of winning her first round heat, made her the second Jamaican to win a swimming heat at the Olympics after former Jamaican representative Sion Brinn won his first round heat in the 50m and 100m races in Atlanta in 1996.