Today in amazing: The first black female swimmer to win a world title
Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson was expected to lose in the Women’s 100 meter Breaststroke Final at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar this weekend. Not only was Atkinson up against Rūta Meilutytė, the Lithuanian swimmer who holds the world record for the breaststroke, she is also a black competitor in a sport dominated by white people and surrounded by harmful racial stereotypes.
Then, in the last leg of the race — which you absolutely have to drop everything and watch right now—Atkinson pulled ahead and touched the wall 0.1 seconds before Meilutytė, tying her world record in the process. Be sure to watch through the end so you can see Atkinson’s face move from shock to joy to laughter to tears in the span of five seconds. She should win the world record for most facial expressions in the least amount of time, too!
But Atkinson didn’t just win a single race, she also became the first black female swimmer and the first Jamaican to win a world title in the history of the sport. As The Grio reports, Atkinson follows in the footsteps of Enith Brigitha of the Netherlands who became the first black woman to post a world swimming record 40 years ago. Atkinson’s 1 minute, 2.36 second time will also go down in history as a milestone for black competitors in the sport. After her victory, Atkinson couldn’t — and shouldn’t — contain her joy! On Twitter, she thanked her coaches and her family before exclaiming, “World record holder baby!”
Later on Instagram, she posted a gold medal selfie — the most coveted selfie of them all — with a moving caption reflecting on her big win: “This is more than about me. A country . . . a nation, a race. First Jamaican swimmer, first female swimmer from the caribbean, and I believe first black female swimmer in over 40yrs. This is not just mine.”
And then on Sunday she celebrated with a well-deserved cookie tower topped with hot chocolate. A woman after our own heart.
But in addition to breaking records and barriers, Atkinson’s victory this weekend was also a personal triumph for a truly incredible swimmer. For 10 years and across two summer Olympic games, she has been closing in on the world record for the 100 meter breaststroke. Back in 2004, she posted a time of 1 minute, 12.53 seconds at an Olympics heat in Athens. During the London Olympics final in 2012, she cut that time down to 1 minute, 6.93 seconds, placing 4th. Atkinson has shortened her breaststroke time by 10 seconds in as many years and she’s already got her eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Back in 2013, Atkinson had to plead for financial help to compete in the 2016 games. Hopefully, she won’t have that problem anymore.
And in the meantime, Alia Atkinson, be sure to take a victory lap or two. You’ve swum your way into the record books and the history books, as well as our hearts.