There must be something in the water at the Olympic Pool in Al Hussein Youth City these days.
And whatever it is, it is having an impact on the Kingdom’s young swimmers who are creeping ever closer to making history in the pool.
While Jordan has been represented at the Olympics several times in the past through wild cards (invitations), no swimmer has ever qualified but all that could change as the national team prepares for the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, from July 28-August 9.
“The times speak for themselves, we are definitely getting faster in the pool,” said Ibrahim Naddeh, Jordan Swimming Federations (JSF) Secretary General. “National records are being broken virtually every championship we participate in and a couple of swimmers are getting very close to the qualification times for Rio (2016 Olympics).”
That couple are brother and sister Talita and Khader Baqlah who between them hold national records into double figures.
Talita, 20, experienced the Olympics in 2012 in London while Khader, 17, has made a huge impact by actually qualifying for next month’s World Championships, while his five teammates will be competing on wild cards. Khader is now less than half a second from Olympic qualifying times in 200m Freestyle and one second in 100m and 400m Freestyle. While Talita is now less than half a second from Olympic qualifying times in 50m Freestyle.
The other two female swimmers Lydia Musleh, 18, and Rahaf Baqlah, 17, are less than one second from Olympic qualifying times in 50m Freestyle.
Joining them in the team is impressive 15-year-old Mohammed Bedour, who is already setting new national times for his age group, in 50, 100 and 200m Backstroke and 50m Freestyle and Butterfly.
“We have made progress,” said Naddeh. “It has taken hard work but the results are starting to show. We have a number of strong swimmers coming through.”
It promises to be an exciting summer for swimming. The JSF has made the wise move of staying in Jordan for a one-month camp prior to the World Championships rather than camp overseas so that money can be spent on additional support services including a ‘mental trainer’, nutritionist and physiotherapist. Renowned American coach Jay Benner, 50, has also flown in to work alongside the local team of coaches.
Being a national team swimmer takes awe-inspiring dedication. Experienced Head Coach Dr. Ali Al- Nawaiseh explained what each member goes through in an average week.
“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.”
Impressive stuff when you consider that there is a dentist, an engineer and of course university and high school students amongst the ranks.
But what does the international coach, Benner, think after a fortnight with the team?
“There has definitely been a lot of progress shown and the times prove that,” he said. “There are definitely swimmers here that have the potential of qualifying for Rio. It won’t be easy but they will be close.”
Swimming’s recent progress is even more remarkable given the restrictions the JSF faces due to not owning their own indoor facility. Winters tend to be spent loaning a 25m high school pool with far less specifications that is officially required.
But there is no denying that the team ‘makes hay whilst the sun is shining’ with the JSF's 50m pool a hive of activity all day long through the warmer months.
Money and time is also invested in the coaches calling the shots from the pool side. That investment, coupled with the swimmers’ dedication, has undoubtedly made indirect impact towards quicker times being recorded.
And with Rio just over a year away, Jordan will be hoping that history can be made with a swimmer, or two, qualifying for the first time.