ALVARANGA... I feel very excited and honoured to be selected on a team with Alia Atkinson (Photo: Observer file)
Rising swim star Alvaranga delighted at chance to compete with idol Atkinson

It has always been Zaneta Alvaranga's dream to perform in the same pool as her compatriot and idol Alia Atkinson. That dream is about to come true.

The young sensation is set to join the five-time Olympian, as well as Keanon Dols and Sidrell Williams as Jamaica's representatives at the FINA World Short Course Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Alvaranga's selection for the 15th edition of the prestigious championship, scheduled for December 16-21, comes on the heels of her fairly decent showing in the Dominican Republic recently, where she copped four gold, one silver and a bronze medal under the Kaizen Swim Club banner.

With the Aquatic Sports Association of Jamaica (ASAJ) being allowed a maximum of four slots, Alvaranga and Williams — who was also in good nick in Dominican Republic — were the Universality selections, as Atkinson and Dols have qualified with A and B standard times.

To say that this is another big step in her budding career would be an understatement, as the 16-year-old Alvaranga has donned the national colours at major events such as World Junior Championships and UANA Cup, complemented by numerous Carifta and CCCAN appearances.

Such is the ambition and stubborn determination of the Immaculate Conception stalwart, that the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, is well on her radar.

In fact, Alvaranga has already produced a 26.34 second-clocking for the 50-metre freestyle which is not too far off the Olympic B standard of 25.92s, which would have qualified her for the Tokyo Games earlier this year.

For now though, the soft-spoken swimmer is basking in this once in a lifetime opportinuty to compete alongside Atkinson in what could possibly be her last hurrah in an inspirational and well decorated career.

The 32-year-old Atkinson, who announced her pending retirement at the Tokyo Games, made her first Olympic appearance at age 15 and since then has been Jamaica's and the Caribbean's standard-bearer.

In 2014, she became the first black woman to win a world swimming title in 2014, and also holds the 50m and 100m breaststroke world short-course records of 28.56 and 1:02.36.

“I feel very excited and honoured to be selected on a team with Alia Atkinson. It has always been a big dream of mine because for years I have looked up to her and the journey that she has been on through her remarkable career,” a beaming Alvaranga told the Jamaica Observer.

“This is also an awesome opportunity for me to not only see her close-up in action but also to learn more from her to help me along my own journey,” she added.

That she was even considered for selection in the first place, Alvaranga believes is testament to the hard work she has been putting in with her father Rory Alvaranga, who is also her coach, over the years.

“I am a determined person and I believe firmly that once you put in the hard work then you will see the rewards and for me, this is just one of the benefits of my commitment to training.

“So I am really excited. This is one of the highest levels that you can compete on as a swimmer so to see that I was good enough to be selected is something to proud of and I'm grateful to my coach and everyone that has supported me so far,” she said.

Though the competition to come in the UAE will be more formidable than she is accustomed to, the young sensation pointed out that she is ready to give her best.

“Based on the times I have achieved so far, I think I am as ready as can be at this point to produce some strong performances and hopefully hit some best times. This is a short course, so my expectations are to put in some strong underwater swims and see how well my turns are and like I said, hit some best times,” Alvaranga noted.

Meanwhile, her father Rory says they are now trying to raise the US$2,500 to offset the expenses ahead of her December 12 departure for what he believes will be an invaluable experience.

“This experience is beyond anything that any age group swimmer can accomplish and Zaneta at 16 years old has this wonderful opportunity to move to another level in her career. It is a major stepping stone being able to rub shoulders with Alia Atkinson and other Olympians, so the opportunity is just great all round,” the senior Alvaranga said.

“She is a big meet performer so I expect her to hold her nerves well and I'm sure that Alia with her background will certainly help her along and impart some knowledge as well,” he added.

Jamaica's Zaneta Alvaranga in action for her country.
Zaneta Alvaranga (right) reacts upon meeting compatriot and idolAlia Atkinson at the 2017 Carifta Swimming Championship.
BY SHERDON COWAN Observer staff reporter cowans@jamaicaobserver.com

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