Khader ready to make waves for Jordan in the pool
Together with his older sister Talita, 17-year-old Baqlah Khader is part of a talented new generation looking to put Jordanian swimming on the map, and now he has his sights firmly set on Rio.
The first Jordanian swimmer ever to make it to the Olympic Games based on qualification time and not as a wild card, he ranks his qualification for the 200m freestyle at Rio 2016 as his finest achievement to date, on a par with his three three silver medals from the Asian Youth Championships.
“It is an unbelievable feeling,” he purrs. “I dreamt of this moment hoping to get a chance to even smell the pool of the Olympics. But now I get to participate in it, and actually feel the water hit my face.”
The modest teenager, whose parents signed him up for swimming lessons at the Al-Hussein Youth City Club when he was five, says he owes much to friends and family for providing him with the strength and belief to achieve his sporting goals.
“Allowing myself to enhance relationships with friends and family, and gaining experience with them that will help me in the future and especially throughout the Olympics as I know I have their complete support.”
He and Talita – who already has Olympic experience having been given a wild card to London 2012 – hold no less than 10 national records between them, and are part of a golden generation of Jordanian swimmers, the likes of which the country has never seen before.
“The times speak for themselves, we are definitely getting faster in the pool,” said Ibrahim Naddeh, secretary general of the Jordan Swimming Federation (JSF). “National records are being broken virtually every championship we participate in…We have a number of strong swimmers coming through,” he added.
Baqlah says that he profited greatly from his experience at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014, and not just from a sporting perspective. “Learning about Chinese culture was fun. I love to learn about difference countries and their traditions. Also to be able to compare the country that I came from with others helps me expand my mind.
Describing the buzz he gets from swimming he says: When you’re on the starting block, waiting to dive into the pool, it’s an unforgettable feeling. Having all eyes on you, with your heart racing... it’s a thrill.
“Mostly, the fact that when you enter the water the tension in between muscles cells tightens up giving me feelings of excitement and adrenaline. It’s an emotion I have not yet experienced doing any other activity.
His training regime comprises basketball and crossift to improve athletic performance, and running, which he says helps alleviate stress. However, as Rio approaches, he is stepping up his training regime. “The frequency and intensity of my practice sessions are increasing. It means more pressure, but that’s fine as you have the right mindset, and I am just staying focused that the Olympics will soon be here.”
The Jordanian swimming team’s head coach Ali Al Nawaiseh confirms that the regimen for Khader and his other charges is indeed an intense one. “They do 10 water sessions a week of about two hours each and three dry land sessions in the gym of about 90 minutes each. They also will do a couple of mental training sessions so each swimmer puts in up to 30 hours of training a week.”
So what are Khader’s goals for Rio? “A better ranking, and a new personal best… something that both I and my country can be proud of,” he says.“The Olympics does not just represent a challenge for myself, but for my country. When I take to the Olympic stage I do so representing my country, culture, and the people who helped me through this journey. I will represent us as a whole.”