Alia Atkinson, the first black woman to win a world championship swimming title, debuted alongside Bolt at Athens 2004 and will compete in her fourth Games at Rio 2016
Sprint superstar Usain Bolt, who touched down in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday evening (26 July), has won the admiration of fans and fellow athletes alike the world over. But who is the world’s fastest man a fan of? According to Bolt, compatriot 27-year-old swimmer Alia Atkinson, who will also appear at her fourth Olympic Games at Rio 2016, is in her own way just as remarkable.
In 2014 Atkinson became the first black woman to win a world championship swimming title, a feat that left the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games sprint double champion hugely impressed.
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“Usain thinks what I’ve done is incredible,” Atkinson said after training at the Olympics Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The swimmer made headlines around the world after winning gold in the world short course 100 metres breaststroke in 2014. With that victory, she became the first black woman to win a world swimming title.
Both Atkinson and Bolt made their Olympics debut as youngsters at Athens 2004 before Bolt shot to worldwide fame at Beijing 2008. “In 2008, he’d developed, blossomed and shot into a new league. I was still in a developmental phase,” Atkinson said.
“But I remember going up to him in 2012 and he was like ‘oh yes, you look like an athlete now. You look like you’re ready to show the world what you’ve got now’. He was right, I’d changed a lot of my routines, my body was fitter and I guess all round I was just a healthier athlete.”
At the London 2012 Olympic Games Atkinson excelled, finishing fourth in the 100m breaststroke. Her impressive performance acted as a springboard towards her historic achievements in subsequent years. :ast year in the world championships in Kazan, Russia, she became the first Jamaican swimmer to win a world long course championship medal, a bronze in the 100m breaststroke.
Atkinson’s exploits have inspired a generation of young Jamaicans to take to the pool and get into swimming. But as she and Bolt prepare for their fourth Olympic Games, for the swimmer Bolt continues to be an inspirational figure and a sporting legend.
“He’s done so many things that I guess we knew we (Jamaicans) could do, but never on such a vast scale,” Atkinson said. “For a small country to have developed such a fantastic athlete who is known worldwide is incredible.”
“He’s an inspiration for all of us involved in Jamaican sport. He’s like Muhammad Ali in that way. He says he’s a legend, he is a legend and he becomes a legend. He believes he’s going to win and he makes the rest of the world believe it too.”