TOKYO ON MY MIND
Oct 11, 2016
A lot has happened to Khader Baqlah since his record breaking swim in the Olympic pool in Rio de Janeiro back in August.
The teenager’s new 200m Jordan record made him the fifth fastest U18 in the world and it was celebrated across the Kingdom, even prompting a tweet of congratulations from Her Majesty Queen Rania to her millions of followers.
It also set the scene for Jordan’s best ever showing at an Olympics with the highlight being Ahmad Abu Ghaush’s historic gold in taekwondo the following week.
He has since turned 18 and has been getting to grips with his newfound stardom which means he regularly gets stopped in public for those precious ‘selfies’.
“That is something that didn’t happen before!” smiled the modest teenager. “I really felt that for the first time Jordan was supporting me in Rio. The response to my record was something else, especially to have had the message tweeted from Her Majesty. It was unreal to see my name on billboards in shopping centres.”
It has been an incredible, but hard working, road to this point for Khader who was joined in Rio by his sister Talita who also broke the Jordan record there in the 50m, an achievement that Khader said made him “even more happier than setting my own record”.
In the 12 months prior to the Olympics, he lowered his best time in 200m by more than four seconds and narrowly missed out on qualification for the 100m also.
He puts that down to the support he received from his coach Dr Ali Al Nawaiseh along with two gruelling training camps arranged in Austria through Jordan Olymic Committee (JOC) partner backaldrin.
With progress like that, it is not surprising that there is a wave of optimism as the JOC plans ahead to who can do what for Tokyo 2020.
“I really believe that with the right programme I can reach a final in Tokyo and maybe a medal but you have to remember this is one of the toughest sports to get to the top of,” he said.
“But my motivation is sky high since Rio. I couldn’t wait to get back into the pool and showed that by setting four new Jordan records just a week after returning. I am hungrier than ever now to do well.”
Since taking three weeks off, when “I was not allowed to step foot in a pool”, Khader has returned to training which can take up to five hours a day. He can also swim up to 40kms a week knowing that there is much more work that needs to be done to reach the top.
In November he will have a taste of competing in Tokyo for the first time when he hopes to swim in the 50m, 100m, 200m 400m freestyle and the 100m butterfly in the 10th Asian Swimming Championships.
But he also has a huge life decision to make in the coming weeks. After graduating from high school with an excellent score, university is calling with a probable January start.
“I am studying what the best option is at the moment,” he said. “There are some opportunities in the USA that I am looking at and it will all depend on the swimming. But I will make a decision soon.”
Khader has the perfect physique for swimming and his good looks have caught the attention of an unlikely army of fans.
“I started to get a lot of fan messages from China which was strange,” he said. “And then I was alerted that some Weibo (Chinese Facebook) users there were carrying pictures of me saying I was swimming’s Justin Bieber! I found it quite funny but the messages keep coming!”
With the onset of the colder months, swimming in Jordan heads indoors for the 25m short course season, but hibernation is certainly a long way from the thoughts of this determined young man who has high ambitions... but then what teenager doesn’t?