Atkinson becomes first black woman to win world title

Liz Byrnes
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Alia Atkinson of Jamaica poses with her gold medal after winning in the women's 100m Breaststroke during the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Doha on December 6, 2014

Alia Atkinson became the first black woman to win a world swimming title when she triumphed in the 100m breaststroke at the world short-course championships on Saturday as more records tumbled.

Jamaican Atkinson, 25, claimed the title and equalled Ruta Meilutyte’s world record of 1min 02.36sec in the process -– although under governing body FINA rules this still equates to a new record.

That took the total of world records set at the Hamad Aquatic Centre to 17.

The tone was set in the first event as Russia set a new mark of 1:22.60 in the men’s 4x50m freestyle relay with Atkinson’s effort in the very next race.

That was immediately followed by another stunning display from Florent Manaudou in the 50m backstroke.

Katinka Hosszu claimed her fourth world record in the 200m individual medley before the session ended with a new mark for the United States in the mixed 4x50m freestyle (1:28.57).

However, it was Atkinson who lit up the pool.

Meilutyte appeared on course for a successful defence of her title only for her rival to move on to the Lithuanian’s shoulder at the final turn.

Atkinson then clawed her way down the final length before out-touching the 17-year-old by 0.10sec.

She was completely unaware of what she had done, staring up at the scoreboard with an air of resignation before it gradually dawned.

"Me?," she mouthed, pointing at herself before the enormity of her achievement was absorbed and so started the celebrations.

She told AFP: “I couldn’t believe it! It came down to the same thing as the 50 and on the 50 I got out-touched so in my mind I went straight back to that.

"I just thought ‘oh okay’ and looked up at the board and it didn’t really click yet and then it really started to click. It took a while!”

Atkinson’s role at the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Florida is to encourage greater involvement of different communities in swimming and to promote water safety.

“Hopefully my face will come out, there will be more popularity especially in Jamaica and the Caribbean and we’ll see more of a rise and hopefully in the future we will see a push,” Atkinson mused.

Manaudou has dominated the pool in the sprint events this season with four European long-course titles in Berlin in August.

The 24-year-old sunk the 50m freestyle world record on Friday and Saturday he returned to take 0.39sec off Peter Marshall’s 50m backstroke mark from 2009 in 22.22.

The 6ft 6in Frenchman now has four medals in Doha -- three of them gold -- and he still has the 100m freestyle final to come.

“I am already three-time world champion and I have a silver in the relay so there is no pressure on me anymore,” he said.

“I didn’t think I could do that (break the world record by such a large amount) and I didn’t think anyone could do it. And it’s me.”

Hosszu set her fourth world record of the meet with 2:01.86 for victory in the 200m individual medley with Great Britain’s Siobhan-Marie O’Connor claiming her third silver in a new British record 2:05.87.

Chad le Clos set a championship record of 21.95 as the South African added the 50m butterfly title to his 100m gold.