Alia claims first 50m breaststroke title at Short Course Worlds

Thursday, December 13, 2018

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Alia Atkinson, who finished as runner-up on three consecutive occasions in 2012, 2014 and 2016, finally got it right in the 50m breaststroke, clocking a moderate 29.05 seconds for victory at the 14th FINA World Swimming Championships in Hangzhou in China's eastern Zhejiang province, yesterday.

Atkinson, who holds the world record of 28.56 seconds, was .33 seconds ahead of long-time rival Ruta Meilutytė (29.38secs) of Lithuania and Martina Carraro, who finished third in a new Italian record of 29.59 seconds.

The incomparable Atkinson, who celebrated her 30th birthday on Tuesday with a flat 30-second clocking in the preliminary round, improved that time to 29.54 in the semi-final as she entered the final as the fastest qualifier.

Swimming from lane four, the Jamaican was marginally slow from the blocks with a reaction time of 0.62 compared to Meilutyte's 0.60, but bided her time for the first 25 metres, before displaying her strong underwater pull out off the turn to get up ahead of the field.

From there it was a matter of how fast she would go, as Meilutytė was not expected to get back to her from there given her superb speed endurance. It was a fitting way for Atkinson to turn the tables on her Lithuanian rival, who denied her the gold in 2012 and 2014.

“I'm really happy to finally get the gold in the 50m,” Atkinson told AFP with a broad smile.

“There's a lot of stereotypes about age, and I just turned 30, so it's really cool... to see the 30-year-olds still able to do it...”

Chris Anderson, coach of the phenomenal swimmer, was elated by the historic achievement of his charge.

“It was a sweet swim by Alia Atkinson; the 50-metre breaststroke has always been a difficult race to start off the World Championships, but by having a great turn and solid finish, I think it is really going to build confidence for the 100-metre breaststroke. Great swim for her and looking forward to more swimming at the (Short course) Worlds,” Anderson shared.

The path to gold has not been an easy one for Atkinson, as she had to overcome numerous struggles over the years, but like fine wine she continues to get better with time and is now lodged in the annals of swimming as the fastest sprint breaststroker in the world.

Atkinson's progression was evident since her debut at the 2004 Indianapolis Championships, where she finished 17th in 33.17 and six years later in 2010 she ended sixth in 30.22. The three-consecutive second-place finishes followed and she has now sealed the deal with her first gold medal.

Atkinson now has the most medals for either men or women from the Central American and Caribbean at the World Short Course swimming Championships with eight to her name.

Atkinson is also tied with South Africa's Cameron van der Burgh and the Ukraine's Oleh Lisohor as all-time top medallists in World Championships history in the event.

With her current form and mindset forged by the steel of the many tough championships this season, it would be hard to bet against her achieving the breaststroke double and by extension make it a three-peat in the 100m event.

Atkinson will be in action in the women's 100m breaststroke heats today at 8:30 pm (Jamaica time), but could possibly kick start today's fourth day of competition in the women's 100m individual medley (IM) semi-finals schedule for 6:00 am (Jamaica time), provided that she progressed from the heats which were slated to be contested late yesterday.

The outstanding swimmer is joined by one of Jamaica's rising sensation Sidrell Williams at the six-day championships which is being contested in a 25-metre short-course pool.

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