Jordan at the Olympics: Meet the swimmers ready to make a splash

As well as sharing a familial friendliness and similar appearance, they also finish each other’s sentences

Gary Meenaghan
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One or two minutes speaking with Jordanian duo Talita and Khader Baqlah is enough to determine the two Olympic swimmers are siblings. As well as sharing a familial friendliness and similar appearance, they also finish each other’s sentences.

Khader is inside the exclusive Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro when he says: “She started swimming at four years old and…”

Talita, standing by his side, corrects him in the way only an older sister can: “No. You started at four years old. I started at seven.”

Regardless, now aged 17 and 20, the pair are making history for Jordan. Never before have two siblings from the Hashemite Kingdom competed together at the same Olympic Games. Khader says it is the dream of every athlete to compete in Rio, but adds that “it’s even more special because my sister is here too and we can support each other.”

Ahead of Friday night’s Opening Ceremony at the Maracanã, Jordan’s eight-athlete delegation were given an inspirational speech from HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein in which the president of the Jordanian Olympic Committee stressed the Games are “not just about winning medals”. He added: “It is about representing your country alongside the very best sportsmen and women in the world. If you try your very best, then no-one can be critical of you. Go out there and leave nothing behind.”

Khader, who is making his Olympic debut, will take to the pool at the Olympics Aquatics Stadium on Sunday afternoon to contest the 200m freestyle. It is a discipline in which he has excelled in the past two years, shaving nearly four seconds off his record over the past 12 months alone to become his country’s first swimmer to compete at an Olympics with a B time in qualifying. His personal best of one minute 49.55 seconds, set in Budapest last month, would have seen him finish inside the top 30 in the world at the 200m fly event at the 2012 Games in London.

“Our goal is to improve our personal best times and our world rankings,” he says, aware that a strong performance in Brazil might firm up the initial interest that has been shown in him from some American colleges looking for sports scholars. “There have been a lot of challenges to get here. You have to train very hard to make it to the Olympics and you have to make sacrifices. For example, sometimes you can’t go out with your friends when maybe you want to and there are obviously certain foods you cannot eat. It is tough.”

Talita competed in London four years ago and by returning to the world’s grandest stage in Rio, like her brother, she will make history as she becomes the first Jordanian swimmer to appear at two Olympic Games. In 2012, she clocked a time of 27.45s in the 50m freestyle, but has lowered that time by almost a second as she prepares to return to the pool on August 12 for the heats.

“I believe I am better prepared this time around compared to London, although nothing can really prepare you properly," she says. "I do believe though that my experience from London will help us both. It's funny, we started swimming when we were kids and would race against each other for fun and now we are here in Rio at the Olympic Games together. It's...”.

"It's amazing," finishes Khader.

So has big sister been passing down any words of wisdom? Little brother -- who actually towers over his sister -- is adamant he knows what to expect on Sunday having competed at the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. “Yes, she told me about the room, the Village, the people, everything," he says. "But I went to the Youth Olympics so I had some idea and…”

Talita interjects one last time: “But this is very different. It’s much bigger. This is the Olympics.”

Yes it is. And the Baqlahs are here making history.

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