Tuesday 20 October, 2020

SPECIAL MOMENT: When Alia became first black woman to win swim title

Jamaica's swimming sensation Alia Atkinson.

Jamaica's swimming sensation Alia Atkinson.

December 3, 2014, was a record-setting day for Jamaica's swimming sensation Alia Atkinson. The day is a moment that will live long for all those who witnessed Atkinson winning the 100m breaststroke gold at the FINA World Short-Course Championships in Doha, Qatar.

The Jamaican posted a time of 1:02.36 to beome the first black woman to win a world swimming title.

The time equalled the previous world record set by Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte — and under current FINA rules, actually set a new world record,  a mark that remains today almost six years later.

Meilutyte had to settle for second and the silver medal in 1:02.46, while Moniek Nijhuis of the Netherlands finished third for bronze in 1:04.03.

Atkinson's reaction to victory was somewhat delayed.

She was clearly in shock after touching the wall, not realising the enormity of what she just accomplished.

"I couldn't believe it! It came down to the same thing as the 50 and on the 50 I got out-touched so in my mind I went straight back to that," Atkinson told AFP then. "I just thought 'oh okay' and looked up at the board and it didn't really click yet and then it really started to click. It took a while!"

When Atkinson realised that she was indeed the champion, she was open-mouthed and wide-eyed, jumping high out of the water before covering her mouth, giggling.

Atkinson's only realised that she had equalled Meilutyte’s world record of 1:02.36 from October 2013 after she exited the pool. 

It wasn’t until hours when Atkinson learned she had made history as the first black woman to claim a global title in the pool.

And it took a long time to comprehend the enormity of what she had done.

Atkinson told Swimming World: “It wasn’t until probably a couple of years later that it really sunk in what being the first woman of colour to get that medal really meant.

“It wasn’t just me getting the medal, it was more breaking down a barrier that I didn’t even know existed or I didn’t try to think existed because I was already trying to silence my own thoughts.”


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