Atkinson shows her true colours

Alia Atkinson, who co-held a clinic for 30 children with Emily Seebohm, will also be happy to dispense tips when training with Singapore's national swimmers till Friday.
Alia Atkinson, who co-held a clinic for 30 children with Emily Seebohm, will also be happy to dispense tips when training with Singapore's national swimmers till Friday. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Jamaican swimmer has not let race issue stop her from making a big splash on global stage

Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson may not have broken any world records yet, but with her very presence in the sport, she is already breaking down major barriers.

In last December's world short- course championships in Doha, Qatar, the 25-year-old won the 100m breaststroke final - becoming the first black woman to win a world swimming title.

She followed up that momentous feat by winning a silver and a bronze at the long-course world championships two months ago in Kazan, Russia, boosting the sport's popularity in her home country, which is more known for its dominance in athletics.

Yet, while Atkinson acknowledged she is blazing a trail on multiple fronts, she hopes the focus can eventually shift back to the essence of her craft - that is, how fast she is in the pool. "Eventually, you think people will stop talking about (the race issue)," the swimmer told The Straits Times yesterday after a clinic at the Singapore Sports Institute which she co-held with Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm.

"It helps that there are more people of colour coming up in the sport so that's good to see."

That said, she hopes her feats will mean budding swimmers of colour can find it easier than the world where she had to cut her teeth in.

Once, she was told by a coach that a lane in the pool was closed, only to see him let another swimmer jump in less than a minute later.

She also recalled how an official shook his head disapprovingly at a group of Papua New Guinea swimmers who were unsure how to adjust the starting block's foot-rest.

She said: "Why not just help them?" And so she did, and also gave them swimming caps as they did not have any.

Also seeking to break down barriers is Seebohm, albeit a more personal one. After winning the 100m and 200m backstroke world titles in Kazan, the Australian hopes she can add the Olympic golds to her trophy cabinet next year.

"I'm training to win both, not anything less. The wins in Kazan were important because they are my first (individual) golds in a big international meet.Sure, there is more pressure now but it is all positive and I enjoy it," said the 23-year-old.

"It makes me want to go into the pool and just swing my arms."

Both swimmers played coaches at yesterday's clinic as they put a group of some 30 children through their paces in several exercises.

Singapore's swimmers will also get to benefit from Atkinson's giving personality.

She will train with the national team till Friday before heading to the next leg of the Fina Swimming World Cup series in Tokyo.

She said: "I'm very approachable and I'd definitely make myself available if they have any questions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'ATKINSON SHOWS HER TRUE COLOURS'. Print Edition | Subscribe