What Makes Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson a True Champion

Photo Courtesy: Twitter, @televisionjam

By Sarah Noll, Swimming World Magazine College Intern.

Tennis great Serena Williams once said,

“… a champion is not defined by their wins but how they can recover when they fall.”

Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson embodies the spirit of this message. Since our interview with her back in 2014, Atkinson has continued to develop as a champion in her own right. After placing first in both events at short course World Championships back in December 2018, Atkinson had hoped to repeat her winning streak at FINA World Championships this summer. She has had an impressive career so far, but after a slightly disappointing swim in the 100 breaststroke – her signature event – at FINA World Championships last week, the road to Tokyo is promising to be more difficult than anticipated. She placed eleventh in the event with a time of 1:07.11, a time that did not advance past the semifinals. Atkinson placed fourth in the 50 breaststroke with a 30.34.


Olympian Alia Atkinson posts about what she learned from her 2019 FINA World Championships performance in the 100 breast. Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @alia_atkinson

Many swimmers would be disheartened after a disappointing performance at such a large meet. Although she did not place as high as she had hoped, her inspiring positivity still shines brightly. On her Instagram story (@alia_atkinson) after the meet, she posted a picture of herself smiling. No negativity was evident, and she was happy to have learned from her swims.

Swimming World dives in to find out just what makes Atkinson a champion.

Atkinson’s Lofty Goals

Atkinson has been an inspiration in the swimming community long before this latest performance. Her goals for her swimming career, in her words, are the following:

“To place Jamaica on the world map of swimming; to agitate for the improvement of the infrastructural support for swimming in Jamaica so as to be able to take it to the next level; and to realize my full potential for myself, my parents, and my country.”

In 2014, she was the first black woman in history to win a world title at the 2014 Short Course World Championships. This was also Jamaica’s first gold medal at the World Championship series. She is currently the world record holder for the 50m and 100m (short course) breaststroke. She has numerous other accolades from winning both sprint breaststroke events at 2018 Short Course Worlds to being elected as Jamaica’s Sportswoman of the year in 2014, 2017 and 2018.

A Heart of Service to Others


Olympian Alia Atkinson interacts with Jamaican swimmers at one of the AAN swim clinics. Photo Courtesy: Instagram, @alia_atkinson

It is safe to say she has accomplished her goal of putting Jamaica on the world map of swimming. She also works tirelessly to introduce kids in Jamaica to the sport and inspire them to love the water. When asked by Aimee Berg, FINA press correspondent in 2018, about how her success had changed swimming in Jamaica, Atkinson replied:

“Unfortunately, it has been a lot of ‘Let’s do this, let’s do that,’ but no action behind it. But media-wise, it has been a lot better, which is fantastic, because it’s getting it in everybody’s head that ‘Hey! Jamaica can be better in swimming if we get our kids in it.’ But what’s most important is educating the public and learning swimming as a life skill. If they love it, they will continue, but at least they will know how to swim.”

Atkinson runs AAN swim clinics in Jamaica in her spare time. She teaches young kids water safety and hopes to inspire a love of swimming in others.

Earning her Place

Atkinson is no stranger to working hard for recognition. In 2012, she went to the London Olympics without a suit. The one she had ordered did not arrive on time, so her mother had to buy one while in London. For athletes from larger countries, it is unheard of to have to provide your own suit for the Olympics. Atkinson also had to pay her own way to get to meets, primarily using prize money from other meets to pay for her entries in the World Cups.

Atkinson now has sponsorships from Speedo and Pepsi as well as local businesses. After her impressive fourth place finish at the 2012 Olympics, her country now also financially backs her training. She joined Team Iron of the International Swimming League for the 2019 season along Katinka Hosszú of Hungary.


Alia Atkinson’s iconic smile at Mesa Grand Prix in 2016. Photo Courtesy: Taylor Brien

Atkinson’s Heart of a Champion

“Give back, to have yourself as a celebrity in the eyes of the young and the eyes of the parents and everybody, and see what you can do with that… It’s not just if you run on a track or swim in a pool or play with a ball, you can inspire the kids.” -Alia Atkinson

Atkinson might not have accomplished all of her goals yet. She might not be the fastest yet. But she has proven herself a true champion time and time again with her selflessness, grit, and perseverance. Her work to pave the way for other swimmers of color to shine on the international stage will surely leave a ripple effect in the years to come.

Who inspires you? Leave a comment down below!

-All commentary is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine or its staff.

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4 years ago

Alia is not only an inspiration for Jamaica but all the girls of the Caribbean as well. Keep “our” flags flying high young lady.

4 years ago
Reply to  Franz

In our eyes Alia will always be a star. We love her spirits and is a true role model to emulate.

4 years ago

Great article Sarah Noll! Thank you swimming world for recognizing a part of the heart of a champion! So very Thankful to you dear Alia for overcoming the hurt, toil and pain, making it look so seamless and for constantly dedicating and giving so much of your time, heart, and love to all that you do, especially to your family, friends, fans the sport of swimming, the world in general and to all who know you and love you! So in awe of how God is using you to be the amazing Ambassador, Legend, Inspiration, Activist (Alia) that you are! Continue to soar my friend you are such an amazing person and friend and Champion daughter, sister, niece, friend and the list continues! So grateful to know you and love you and continued prayers for you on this amazing journey????❤️????? ! Keep rising above the odds and living among the “stars”! Cannot wait to keep seeing you continue to Soar!

4 years ago

A very nice piece Sarah Noll, I can tell that you truly understand that success means different things to each athlete. Medals do not define success for many but rather the impact that they, the athletes, leave on aspiring athletes, people around them and the sport in general. You once said that people and kids in particular really like great athletes, the ones who are coachable, teachable, work hard and most definitely persevere through challenges. Alia by this and any definition is GREAT! It is so easy to see her success through the eyes of admiring fans and other swimmers who want to do what she does. Being a woman of color has emortalized her efforts in demonstrating that myths can and have been broken. So to Alia, Jamaica’s and the World’s darling of the pool, I say to you, continue doing your greatness, inspiring so many and entertaining us all with you God given talents. Our champion (Frooks, lol), Swim strong and prosper…

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