Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson became the first black woman to win a world swimming title Saturday after a victory in the 100m-breaststroke at the World Short Course Championships in Qatar. The 25-year-old bested defending champion Ruta Meilutyte by 0.1 second, though she initially thought she had lost the race.
“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 Agence France-Presse after the race. “I just thought, ‘Oh, OK’ and looked up at the board and it didn’t really click yet and then it really started to click. It took a while.”
Atkinson’s time of 1 minute, 2.36 seconds tied Meilutyte’s world record in the event. By governing body FINA’s rules, Atkinson now possess the world record. Her achievement marked the 17th record broken at this year’s world championships
After the race, Atkinson expressed hope her performance would inspire more women from the Caribbean to take up swimming. “Hopefully my face will come out, there will be more popularity especially in Jamaica and the Caribbean and we’ll see more of a rise and hopefully in the future we will see a push,” she said, the Telegraph reported.
Atkinson’s victory also gave Jamaica its first-ever world short course title, Swimming World Magazine reported. She earned a silver medal in the same event in 2012.
Maintaining a positive outlook was crucial in bouncing back from a disappointing turn in the 50m, Atkinson said. “Considering the 50 and how it went, I had to keep my head in check, ‘You can still turn it around. You’re better in the 100.’ So I had to keep a positive outlook, and for the most part I did it pretty well, so I’m excited about that.”