Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson, a five-time Olympic athlete and four-time world champion in the breaststroke, has announced her retirement after a career of 20-plus years in which she became the first Black woman to win a World Championship in the sport. She made her announcement via her Instagram account after completing her last race at the World Short Course Swimming Championship of 2021. She had hinted after the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo that she would likely end her career in 2021, telling an interviewer from the Jamaica Observer that she would reevaluate her situation after competing in the World Cup and International Swimming League (ISL) tournaments.
Alia Atkinson has been representing Jamaica in swim competitions on the global stage for almost 20 years. She has been a competitor at five consecutive Olympic Games from 2004 to 2021. At her first Olympics in 2004, she placed 32nd in the 100-meter breaststroke; in 2008, she came in 25th in the 200-meter breaststroke at the Beijing Games. Her Olympic breakthrough occurred in 2012, when she came in fourth at the London Olympics, missing the bronze medal by just one-half second with a time of 1:06.93. In 2016, she returned to competing in the 100-meter breaststroke, placing eighth in the final in Rio.
Although Atkinson never won an Olympic medal, she has won many long-course medals in the breaststroke, including a 50-meter silver and a 100-meter bronze at the 2015 World Championships, and a 50-meter silver at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, a 100-meter breaststroke bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and two silver medals at the Pan American Games: one in the 200-meter individual medley in 2011 and the other in the 100-meter breaststroke in 2015.
Dominating in Short Course International competitions, Atkinson broke world records in both the 50-meter and 100-meter short course breaststroke races. She set the record in the 50-meter breaststroke in 2016 with a time of 28.64 seconds and then broke her own record in 2018, with 28.56 seconds, a record that continues to this day. Her times in 2016 and 2018 are still the two fastest times in the event in history. In breaking the record in 2014, she became the first Black woman to win an individual world title.
Alia Atkinson was born in 1988 in St. James Parish, Jamaica. When she was 12, she and her family moved to Florida. She began swimming at age three, and at age 13, she decided to focus on the breaststroke. She swam competitively for Texas A&M University, where she earned a BS degree in psychology. While she lives and trained in Florida, she chose to represent Jamaica in international competitions.