Jamaicans are talented, there is no question about that. We rise up from the dust like shiny new diamonds when you least expect it. We pop up in Global Politics, Literature, Movies, Music, Journalism and of course Sports. We participate in every sport we can imagine doing like football and cycling, even ones no one else thought we could like skiing, and sometimes ones that we don’t even teach here like “hand-egg” (American Football). Then there’s the one that would seem obvious to anyone aware of our geography – Swimming.

Swimming seems an obvious sport for Jamaicans to do – we are after all living in “the land of wood and water”. We have rivers at every turn, waterfalls just a quick jog away, and the Caribbean Sea at our doorsteps. Yet, we seem to continuously show excellence in other sports. We somehow seem to have dropped the ball on this sport that is also a vital life skill. How so?

Jamaica has no real swim programme. Well let me be as honest as an outsider can be, there is one, it just happens to be funded by the swimmers parents as much as they possibly can because our government likes hype without investment. We like to revel in the glory of a job well done whilst having no part in the work or the cost. Why am I saying this when I’m usually so kind and generous and forgiving you may wonder, well the proof is always in the pudding.

Brief Swim Nuggets:

  • Our first Olympic Swimmer was Paul Nash in 1968. He didn’t medal, but he was outstanding enough to win Jamaca’s coveted Sportsman of the year in 1969. (He’s also the dad of WIndies cricketer Brandan Nash)
  • In 1972, our youngest Olympian from Jamaica EVER, was 13 year-old Belinda Phillips who competed in the 200, 400 and 800 Individual Freestyle.
  • In 1984 Andrew Phillips (Belinda’s brother) went all the way to the 200 Individual Medley Finals, and also the 400 Semi’s. He went with Deryck Marks, Gordon Scarlett and Allan Marsh.
  • In 1996, Sion Brinn took us all the way to the 100 Freestyle Finals, finishing 4th. I remember his family – they were all superstar swimmers.
  • Our next Olympic Swim Competitors were Angella Chuck and Janelle Atkinson. Janelle finished 4th in the 400 Freestyle.
  • In 2004, Angella & Janelle were joined by the two younger Atkinsons, Jevon and Alia.
  • 2008, saw Jevon Atkinson and Natasha Moodie swim for Jamaica. Despite holding a National Record, Jevon has not hit the Finals in the Olympics.

Andrea and Paul Nash

That brings us to this year…

This year, we were represented by Alia Atkinson, a young lady from a family of swimmers who is currently trained in the US and has the financial support to ensure her ticket is paid for. She has done well for someone who represents a country largely ignorant of the needs of any sport outside of Track, Football and Cricket.
What she does have is supportive parents and family, and some good PR.

With the Social Media Stratosphere lit up, Alia’s participation became the focus of Jamaica’s sports fandom. People who can’t swim were cheering her on, people who think swimming is for wealthy reveled in her success. Alia was the topic Jamaica(ns) tweeted about for almost 3 entire days.

Traditional media, suddenly paid attention. We had sports commentators who have no clue, trying to analyse her swimming and critique it – he should have just stayed silent. Out of the woodwork they came to comment, even saying that she was the first to reach an Olympic final for Jamaica. Can we say FAIL? Truth is, they were completely unprepared for anything not related to Athletics, more specifically the sprints. They didn’t have much on the other track events or the field events. Understandably, they need ratings and Jamaicans within Jamaica tend to be the most fair-weather fans and right now, we own the track.

The Observer did an article on Alia, in which she blatantly stated that in order for her career to continue, she needs financial support. She is not lying, it costs a lot of money to fly all over to compete, trainers and coaches have bills to pay and truth be told, all athletes need food and lots of it.

Being the ever-hype-loving, “for the people” politician our Rt. Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller is, she quickly responded to Alia, “Help is on the way!”. The Headline screamed at us the very next morning. Yes, it seems that Portia has been manipulated through her love of sport, hype, and “people power”. She has proven herself to be really short-sighted and surface skimming in this moment. Why? Because she conveniently did not read the rest of the article which says that the SPORT NEEDS SUPPORT.

Swimming is a sport that demands a lot from those who want to excel. A normal regular swimmer trains at least 3 hours a day in the water. A competing swimmer does 6-8 hours in the water daily, in addition they do strength exercises out of the water, they weight train, they run, they push their muscles to take them through water. Then there’s the food – when you are burning that much energy all the time, you also have to eat to keep the calories available to be burned.  No, we don’t expect the government to magically find the funding for it all, but there are things they can do.

  1. Cover entry fees and airfares for “Team Jamaica” to go to tournaments. Truth is, we need to participate in tournaments to qualify, to improve and to generate news & PR for further support.
  2. Cover a stipend to assist coaches of national swimming competitors. This urges all coaches to train to the highest levels their swimmers and encourages competition making a push for excellence.
  3. Ensure the swimmers representing us are properly uniformed, yes, this will also bolster the local economy if we buy local and have custom made suits.
  4. Include developing safe swim areas and learn to swim programmes in the National Policy on Sports.

I honour the good intentions of PM Simpson-Miller, however it may be beneficial to support the activities of the overall sport. If the sport is supported then next Olympics, Alia may have the company of Timothy Wynter, Matthew Lyn, Priscilla McClure, Breanna Roman, Ivana Chang et al. The truth is, these young people are already doing times within the current Olympic Swimmers ranges, winning medals wherever they go, they just need the support to get to the games.

Other Jamaica Olympic Nuggets:

  • We have participated in Track & Field, Boxing, Cycling, Swimming, Sailing,Weightlifting, Shooting, Diving, Table Tennis, Badminton, Triathalon, Equestrianism, & Taekwondo
  • Our only non-athletics (Track & Field) medal was won by David Weller in 1980 in Cycling.
  • Queen of the Track, Merlene Ottey, has the most track medals and is still competing at 52 years old.
  • Jamaica has won medals in every Olympics since 1968.
  • 1956 & 1964 were the only years Jamaica did not win any medals in the games
Information & Factoids garnered from: sports-reference.com, wikipedia.com, swimjamaica.comjamolympic.org