Top Honors: Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson Is Swimming’s First Black Female Champion

Words by LargeUp Crew

12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) - Day Four

The Jamaican motto Wi likkle but wi tallawahWe’re small, but we’re strong— has a particularly true ring in the sporting world. The Caribbean nation has had a disproportionate level of success at international competitions for a place of its size (Jamaica’s population currently totals 2.7 million, about the same amount of people as live in Chicago). Jamaicans have dominated track and field in recent years, and made unlikely entrances into bobsledding and skiing. Swimming, surprisingly enough, is one sport in which the island has remained quiet.

Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson changed that on Saturday, tying a world’s record in the 100m breast stroke at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Doha, Qatar. Not only did she give Jamaica its first world swimming title but she became the first Black woman to win gold in the sport. Atkinson couldn’t have been a more suitable person to break through the barrier: When she’s not competing, she works as a special projects coordinator for the World Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida, performing outreach for the sport in communities of color. She had this to say following her unexpected victory (so unexpected it produced this response): “Hopefully my face will come out, there will be more popularity [for swimming] 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 then took to her Instagram page to add to the topic:

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. #caribbeanwaveiscoming #Likklebutwetallawah #nevergiveup #neversurrender

A great ambassador, fi true.