Jordan’s Olympic attention turns to the sport of judo next as 30-year-old Ibrahim Khalaf makes his debut on the biggest stage of them all on Wednesday.
Following Khader Baqlah’s exploits in the pool on Sunday, when the youngster broke the Jordan record by over a second in the 200m, spirits in the Team Jordan camp have been high.
Khalaf is due to meet Chile’s Tom Briceno, 22, in his opening bout for the -90kg weight at 10am Rio de Janeiro time, which is 4pm Jordan time.
His appearance is the culmination of one of the hardest qualifying campaigns for any athlete, and his place was confirmed with a bronze medal at the Asian Championships in May, a result that announced Khalaf’s arrival on the international stage.
“People thought it would be impossible for Ibrahim to win a medal at the Asian Championships, but he did it,” said Khalaf’s coach of three years Ahmad Alathameen.
“He has been improving with every tournament this year and has risen up the world rankings so he could surprise one or two people here with his performances.”
Khalaf’s qualifying adventure took him to eight tournaments across Asia where came face to face with the continent’s best. His world ranking has risen to 56, and his opponent on Wednesday is ranked 22. Waiting in the next round is world No 1 Dong-Han Gwak from Korea.
Rio and the razzmatazz of the Olympics is a far cry from the humble beginnings when the 16-year-old Khalaf was introduced to the sport by his brother Musa, a former Arab champion and current member of the Jordan Judo Federation.
He became a judoka to be reckoned with by winning medals at tournaments across the world, culminating in that wonderful Asian bronze earlier this year.
“I am so proud to be here,” said Khalaf. “The Olympics is something all athletes dream to be competing in. Now that I am here I will be doing my best to win and to go as far as I can in this competition.”
He also appreciates that his role here goes far beyond merely competing.
“I also hope that my participation will benefit the sport of judo in Jordan. We need more participants and more youngsters taking up the sport. Doing well here can only give the sport the boost it needs,” he said.
His comments are echoed by his coach who added that since Khalaf confirmed his spot for the Olympics there had already been an increase in participation.
Khalaf’s -90kg weight has the biggest entry of 35 athletes and with him competing in one of only three round-of-64 matches, he knows fitness will be a big factor.
In preparation, he alternates a day of two hours crossfit training with a day of specialist judo instruction from his coach.
It is a demanding sport with action starting in the morning right through to the medal matches in the evening.
Each bout is five minutes long but matches can be finished immediately with an ‘ippon’ which is a throw that places the opponent on his back with impetus and control. Matches can also finish early through submission.
It has been a long journey for Khalaf to arrive in Rio, and Jordan will be hoping that he can spring a surprise and make it a happy ending.