Jasmine born to compete

- Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

LONDON – If there’s something special about Jasmine Alkhaldi as a swimmer, it’s her desire to compete at the highest level. And this morning, the 19-year-old half-Filipina, half-Saudi Arabian gets a chance to show her mettle in the third of eight heats involving 50 competitors in women’s 100-meter freestyle at the Aquatics Center here.          

Alkhaldi qualified for London with a clocking of 56.92 seconds, way above the world record of 52.07 and Olympic mark of 53.12. The University of Hawaii freshman’s time is faster than four swimmers in her heat. But of the 50 bets, the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kronowidjojo boasts of the best time of 52.75. For Alkhaldi to make it to the finals, she will need to shave off at least three seconds from her qualifying time.

“Just to bring down your time by a few seconds takes a long time,” she said. “My goal is to finish in the top 16. If I qualify for the finals, you’ll never know what can happen. It’s my first Olympics and I’m very excited. I can’t wait to compete. I realize it’s difficult to break the top 16 but it’s not an impossible dream.”

Alkhaldi, whose 17-year-old brother Fahad is in the national junior training pool, was born in the Philippines to a Filipina mother Susan Paler and a Saudi father Mohammed Alkhaldi. Her father passed away of cancer two years ago. Her mother runs an on-call catering business in Parañaque.

A Youth Olympics semifinalist in Singapore two years ago, Alkhaldi is a product of the Philippine Swimming Inc. program from Trace College in Los Banos. She was recruited to swim for the University of Hawaii varsity last year. Alkhaldi learned how to swim before she turned three and joined her first international competition at 11. 

“She loves to race,” said national coach Pinky Brosas, a 1972 Munich Olympian. “Jas is a competition swimmer, not a training swimmer. The competition really gets her going. She reacts very fast in the water. That’s why she’s perfect for the short course. She’s just not a middle distance or long distance swimmer.”

Brosas said he’s learning from team physician Dr. Todd Reiter the importance of physical fitness in competing at full potential. “Jas needs to strengthen her upper body and Dr. Todd is looking at how to increase her power,” said Brosas. “We’re documenting his findings and sending them over to Jas’ Hawaii coach Victor Wales. As for the Olympics, she’s ready. She will have tested the pool at the Aquatics Center about 10 times before the real action begins. She has prepared well.”

Alkhaldi said her swimming idols are now PSC commissioner Akiko Thomson and US Olympic multi-medalist Natalie Coughlin whose grandmother is Filipina. “I met her grandmother during the World Championships,” said Alkhaldi. “I wasn’t able to meet Natalie but maybe during the Olympics, I’ll be able to meet her and take her photo.”

In her heat this morning, Alkhaldi will go up against Megan Fonteno of American Samoa, Mylene Ong of Singapore, Nastja Govejsek of Slovenia, Eszter Dara of Hungary, Liliana Ibanez Lopez of Mexico,Clelia Tini of San Marino and Karen Milenka Torrez Guzman of Bolivia. Even if Alkhaldi tops her heat, it’s not a sure ticket to the finals. Her time will be compared with the others and only the top 16 will advance.

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