Atkinson wants to raise profile of swimming in Jamaica
In a land of cricket, football and Bolt, Atkinson aims to push swimming hard
She is a world-class swimmer who has been competing all over the world for years now but, when she's home, Jamaicans tend to have a second take when they spot her.
They think Alia Atkinson is a star, but need a second take to confirm her standing.
Atkinson believes it's because she's mostly seen in her cap, goggles and high-tech swim suit, and hardly ever in street garb.
And also the fact swimming hardly generates as much fuss in Jamaica as cricket, football and athletics, which has obviously been fuelled by the remarkable Usain Bolt.
Atkinson hopes to make her sport bigger in Jamaica.
"I would love for Jamaica to have a relay team in four years. Four women or four men, maybe even both. Now that would be great." — Alia Atkinson (above), on wanting Jamaica to field a swimming relay team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. PHOTOS: REUTERS
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday at the OCBC Aquatic Centre, she said: "I'd like to see swimming in Jamaica sustain itself as a sport. At least we should send more representatives to major meets.
"Right now, it's just me and, at the recent Olympics in Rio, we had two, and at the most, we've had six."
The 27-year-old is in Singapore for the fourth successive year and was training at the Sports Hub facility yesterday, ahead of the Fina/airweave Swimming World Cup 2016 (short course), which will be held at the OCBC Aquatic Centre on Oct 21 and 22.
Atkinson didn't enjoy the Olympics.
She finished eighth in the women's 100m breaststroke and said: "The majority of the swimmers I knew in Rio, it was kind of a 50-50 thing, they either felt really great or it was soul-crushing.
"I was unfortunately a part of the soul-crushing crowd."
There was some consolation soon after.
In the first leg of the nine-stop World Cup series in Paris at the end of August, Atkinson stormed to gold in the 100m breaststroke, equalling the world record of 1min 02.36sec (set by Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte in 2013) in the process.
Atkinson is the first black woman to win a world title, when she claimed the gold medal in the 100m breaststroke at the 2014 World Championships (short course) in Doha.
That win also made her the first swimming world champion from Jamaica.
She is a trailblazer in her country and wants swimming to have a bigger profile back home.
"After college, swimming kind of fizzles out, because in Jamaica, we don't have a system where sport is intertwined with academics," she explained.
"A lot of 18-year-olds have to choose if they want to stay (in Jamaica) or move to another country to work on their swimming future.
"Swimming will always be one of the smaller sports in Jamaica, because of the finances and the location.
"We have a few pools, but not as many as netball courts or football fields. But the younger ones seem more energised and motivated to push it along."
This year's Olympics was her fourth successive Games and, while she's not looking ahead to Tokyo 2020, she wants to see Jamaica field at least a relay team in Japan.
She said: "I would love for Jamaica to have a relay team in four years. Four women or four men, maybe even both.
"Now that would be great."
The Jamaican hopes to be seen as an inspiration to people of colour around the world.
"More people are stretching the stereotype that swimming is a Caucasian sport and it can't be done by a person of colour.
"I would like to leave a mark, just because it hasn't been done doesn't mean it's impossible."
She will be competing in seven events next week in the seventh leg of the World Cup Series, and she said: "I'm hoping to pick up where I left off in Paris, but I don't know, we'll just see how it goes."