Weeks after the last swim of her storied career, 50- and 100-metre breaststroke world record holder Alia Atkinson is still adjusting to retirement. Atkinson is sure she left the pool at the right time, but she can feel a part of her expecting to be back in the water soon.
A fourth-place finish on December 20 in the 100m breaststroke at the World Short Course Championships brought the curtain down on a career that took her to two Olympic finals and world records in two events. With all that behind her, she said on January 11, “I think it’s surreal. I don’t think I actually fully understand the scope of the decision I made. I think part of me still thinks I’m going to get back in the water in a couple weeks, like it’s a very long extended vacation, but I know I was ready. I know it was time. It was time to move on and do other things.”
Asked to look back at her career highlights, the newly retired champion included age groups meets in the Caribbean, the 2012 Olympics and her world records, 28.64 and 28.56 seconds in the short-course 50-metre breaststroke, and two clockings of 1 minute 02.36 seconds in the 100-metre version.
“I think 2012 was a huge one because it said, yes, I can do something on the scene when I got fourth; so then 2014, oh wow, it wasn’t luck. You really have something and you have a talent. Let’s see how far it can go,” she recalled gratefully with reference to her fourth-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.
She notched a world record for the first time in 2014, when she matched the 100-metre mark.
She says there were many low points, but singled out the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. She set a Games 50-metre breaststroke record of 30.27 seconds in qualifying, but finished second in the final.
“I remember setting the record and everything was in gear and I got second. And for some reason that blew me. Second is great, but for some reason, it blew me, like I still cannot accomplish it. Like really,” she lamented.
Still, the Jamaican, who is the first black woman to win a world swimming title, has no regrets.
“If I had finished back in 2016,” she contemplated, “I think I would have a little more ‘what else’. I felt like I was cutting myself short. And if I had finished in 2019, I really felt like maybe I should finish it up. Then ISL, which was the International Swimming League, started swimming as a professional sport. So I think I would have felt a little regret about not at least participating in it for one season. I’ve been in it long enough to not have any regrets. I think I’ve accomplished everything I could in the sport.”