Seventeen-year-old swimmer Khader Baqlah will launch Jordan’s campaign at the Olympic Games when he looks to set a new National record in the 200m freestyle on Sunda in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park Aquatics Centre today (7.18pm Jordan time).
The youngster is the first ever Jordanian to have reached an Olympic Games with a qualifying B time, and he finds himself in the unusual position of starting in lane 4 for his heat with the quickest time.
“Training has gone very well over the past week since I arrived in Rio and I am just looking forward now to competing,” said Baqlah. “This is a dream come true for me to be here. I have really enjoyed the experience so far.
“I am feeling really good so I am going to try and set a new Jordan record which will improve my world ranking as well.”
Baqlah has been in superb form over the last 12 months and has managed to shave an incredible four seconds off his personal best time over the 200m distance.
His current best of 1:49.55 was set only last month in Hungary and a similar swim in Rio could see him win his heat.
Khader is the younger brother of Talita who will be going in the 50m freestyle later this week.
How tough is it for Khader to qualify?
The 17-year-old has managed to take almost four seconds off the 200m freestyle Jordan record over the last year, and he will compete in Heat One in lane four as its fastest swimmer.
But victory does not guarantee a spot through to the semi-finals, with the fastest 16 times from all of the heats going through.
Despite Khader setting an impressive fastest time of 1:49.55, his coach Dr Ali Al Nawaiseh has explained the incredibly high standards that are being set in pool.
“Khader is placed in a heat that doesn't give him the advantage of competing against stronger swimmers, which usually helps, but we will think of it positively,” he said. “Since he is the fastest in his heat that doesn't give him the advantage of pacing someone who already got a faster time.
“The world record for the race is 1:42.00 and the Olympic Record is 1:42.96. The World Junior Record for Khader's age group is 1:47.10.
“At the last Olympics the winner was Frenchman Yannick Agnel in a time of 1:43.14 so it gives an idea of the times that the top swimmers are making.”
At the London Olympics, a time of 1:47.97 or faster ensured a semi-final place. Out of the 49 swimmers set for Rio’s 200m, Khader is ranked 42.
It puts into perspective the enormity of Khader’s challenge with him needing to almost set a new junior world record with two seconds off his current best time.
“The standards are exceptionally high but we are hoping that Khader can continue to swim faster and close the gap,” said Dr Ali. “A lot of developing countries don’t enter their young swimmers into the 200m because of the gulf in times to the top swimmers, but Khader is fearless and will enjoy the experience and hopefully close the gap again on the top swimmers with a new personal best and Jordan record.”