World record holder and four-time world champion Alia atkinson announced his retirement from the sport. Atkinson took to Instagram to disclose the decision after his last run at the 2021 World Short Course Swimming Championships.
After the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Atkinson hinted that her career would likely end in 2021. She said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer:
“If you see me next year, then ask me what happened because that’s not the plan at the moment. I will finish the rest of the year because I have World Cups and ISL [International Swimming League] coming up, so we’ll see there, and then in december we’ll probably see where I am in life.
Atkinson kept his word and raced as a member of the London Roar in ISL’s 3rd season and topped his career at the 2021 World Short Course Swimming Championships.
Long-term international career
Atkinson raced internationally for Jamaica for almost two decades and competed in 5 consecutive Olympic Games from 2004 to 2021. In her first Games, Atkinson placed 32nd overall in the 100 breaststroke and 25th in the 200 breaststroke 4 years later in Beijing.
She made an Olympic breakthrough in 2012 when she narrowly missed the podium in the 100 breaststroke in London, swimming in 1: 06.93 to finish 4th. It was just under half a second slower than the bronze medalist Satomi Suzuki who posted a 1: 06.46.
Atkinson returned to the 100 breaststroke final in 2016 with an 8th place finish in the Rio event and swam the event preliminaries at Tokyo 2020, finishing 22nd overall.
Although Atkinson never made it to the podium at the Olympics, she has collected numerous medals in long course in breaststroke throughout her career. Some of those podiums included a silver in the 50 breaststroke and a bronze in the 100 breaststroke at the 2015 World Championships. She also won 50 silver medals in breaststroke at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, 100 bronze medals breaststroke at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and two Pan American Games silver medals in the 200 IM (2011) and 100 breaststroke (2015).
Short international career
Atkinson was the most dominant, however, in the short course breaststroke races and will leave the sport as the world record holder in the 50 and 100 SCM breaststroke. Atkinson first set the world record for the 50 breaststroke in 2016 with a 28.64 to beat Jessica Hardy’s 28.80 mark from 2009. She then lowered it again with a 28.56 in 2018, where it stands today.
Atkinson’s two world records in 2016 and 2018 remain the event’s two fastest races on record. The closest person to his time since 2018 came in 2020 when Lily king swam a 28.77 in the ISL final.
While the sole holder of the 50 record, she shares the 100 breaststroke world record with the Lithuanian Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte. Meilutyte broke the world record in 2013 with a time of 1: 02.36 and Atkinson tied that time two years later at the 2014 World Swimming Championships. Two years later Atkinson swam the exact same time for the second time in a 2016 World Cup competition, meaning the 1: 02.36 has been issued three times in total.
When she broke the record in 2014, Atkinson also became the first black woman to win a world swimming title.
Atkinson’s dominance in the short course is also reflected in his record for medals at the World Short Course Championships, which consists of 10 podiums in 4 championships:
Alia atkinson World medal record in short course
- 2014 – 100 breaststroke
- 2016 – 100 breaststroke
- 2018 – 50 breaststroke
- 2018 – 100 breaststroke
- 2012 – 50 breaststroke
- 2012 – 50 breaststroke
- 2014 – 50 breaststroke
- 2016 – 50 breaststroke
- 2016 – 100 MI
- 2018 – 100 MI
Atkinson was set to add two more medals to the roster during the 2021 edition of the competition, but neither reached the top 3. In the 50 breaststroke, Atkinson swam a 29.55 during the prelims, but was subsequently disqualified in the semi-finals as one of 8 women to earn a DQ from that event. Atkinson’s preliminary swim, had she repeated it in the final, would have been enough to equalize Sophie hansson for bronze.
In the 100 breaststroke, Atkinson was not disqualified but missed the podium by 0.09 seconds. Atkinson was 4th in the final with a time of 1: 04.03 while Mona McSharry of Ireland swam 1: 03.92 for bronze.
International Swimming League
Given her short course prowess, Atkinson was a valuable swimmer in the International Swimming League. In her first season as an Iron member, Atkinson won 3/3 of the 50 breaststrokes she competed in and placed 1st of 2 and 2nd in 1 of the 100 breaststrokes she competed.
In 2020 and 2021, Atkinson raced for London Roar and continued to be a reliable force for the team. She won the 50 breaststroke in Game 2 and Game 5, the 100 breaststroke in Game 2, Game 5 and Semi-final 1, and won the 50 breaststroke skins in Game 5. She also won. a number of top 3s for the team and finished the season as a 21st ranked swimmer in MVP points.
In his third and final ISL season, Atkinson was once again a crucial part of London Roar’s success. She has won 50th chest wins in Games 3, 8 and 9, Playoff 1 and the Season Finals. In the 100 breaststroke, she had an almost perfect record after winning the event in Games 3, 8 and 9 and Playoffs 2 and 5.
She was the 25th highest MVP scorer in the final, 15th overall this season and 3rd member of the London Roar team behind Duncan Scott (5th overall) and Emma McKeon (14th overall).
Atkinson also enjoyed a successful 4-year college career, having represented Texas A&M in the NCAA from 2006-10. In her final year at Texas A&M, she became the NCAA 200 breaststroke champion. Throughout his career as Aggie, Atkinson received 19 All-American Honors and won 6 individual Big 12 titles and 4 relay titles.
His best short course meters times of 59.43 in the 100 and 2: 06.99 in the 200 were both Texas A&M records at the time and both are currently ranked 6th in program history.
In honor of his NCAA career, Atkinson was inducted into the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019.