Alia Atkinson made history for Jamaica this week when she won a silver medal in swimming the 50 meters backstroke. It was the best any Jamaican had ever achieved in swimming, and in a stroke where we had never won a medal. Janelle Atkinson, not related, won bronze medals in freestyle events at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games; she now coaches in the USA. Swimming has been a Commonwealth Games sport since the inaugural edition of the event’s precursor, the 1930 British Empire Games. It is a core sport and must be included in the sporting programme of each edition of the Games. Jamaica took its time getting there.
Alia has had a really great run at the top international level, making the final in 50 breaststroke at the 2012 London Olympics. In 2013, she won a string of races at 50 and 100 breaststroke in the FINA Gold Cup events. She looked a good medal prospect heading into Glasgow. Then, she got racing and broke the Games record twice before the final. The races are very close over the short sprint, and while gold might have glittered more, Alia could say she’s content to come away with a medal, especially against the swimming powerhouses of Australia, Canada and England.
We have become accustomed to our sprinters hauling in medals but to be a realistic prospect in swimming is a huge achievement. I screamed all I could during the 30 seconds of the final. What an odd thing to be doing.