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2016 CARIBBEAN/CENTRAL AMERICAN FEMALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: ALIA ATKINSON
Jamaican Alia Atkinson had a fantastic 2016 in her specialty, sprint breaststroke. Her year was highlighted by two world records, one in the 50 SCM breast and one in the 100 SCM breast. Her story in the 100 breast in short course is somewhat comical– she tied Ruta Meilutyte‘s world record in 2014 of 1:02.36, then swam a 1:02.36 once more at a FINA World Cup meet this fall— only Atkinson might not think it’s all that funny. FINA gives a bonus of $10,000 for athletes who break world records at their world cup meets, but not if you tie a world record.
Atkinson hit the jackpot, anyways, as she popped Jessica Hardy’s 50 SCM breast record in October at the Tokyo stop of the World Cup tour with a 28.64 to shave .16 off the old mark. This time, she left nothing to be questioned, well ahead of the old record and netting the $10,000 bonus.
In addition to tearing things up on the World Cup tour all fall, she finished off her season with a gold medal at the FINA World Championships in Windsor in the 100 breast over Olympic champion Lilly King. Additionally, Atkinson added a silver medal in the 50 breast and a bronze in the 100 IM at those championships. While she did not medal at the Olympics, Atkinson qualified for the 100 breast final, where she ultimately finished 8th overall.
RUNNER UP: ARIANNA VANDERPOOL-WALLACE
Bahamian sprinter Ariana Vanderpool-Wallace, an Auburn alumna, was the only other swimmer from the Caribbean to qualify past prelims at the 2016 Olympics. In the 50 free, her best event, she touched 24.77 in prelims to slip into the semifinals. In the semis, she improved upon her morning swim with a 24.60, though it was a few hundredths slower than what it took to make the final. In the 100 free, she just missed a semifinal swim after touching 17th in prelims.