Every title is a new world record, a new personal best performance or a competition won – Taliso Engel in the fast track. Para swimmer wins one by one. Even his biggest opponent, Belarusian swimmer Ihar Buki, beat in May at the European Championships in Madeira by almost two seconds. Can a 19-year-old competitive athlete improve? “Of course there is still room for improvement,” Engel says. He is ambitious and is at the beginning of his sports career, but he also frankly admits: “In the spring I had some really bad competitions.”
Ahead of the Tokyo Paralympics, the swimmer offers insight into his life through a video call: Engel is sitting in his room, on-ear headphones, a black T-shirt and his brown hair slightly wavy. Hanging on the wall behind him are blue, black, red and gold ribbons – medals that testify to his success. If asked about it, he smiles and forms dimples around the corners of his mouth.
Between high school and competitive sports
Talisso Engel remained on the ground. The swimmer has just finished his matriculation, but instead of resting, he takes a Spanish course and is working on his seminar paper, because it is after the Paralympics before getting his full matriculation. In addition, there are up to nine training modules six days a week – filled with swimming and strength training. “Have you ever had muscle soreness with too much training?” Certainly, Engel says. But for his dream of participating in the Paralympics, he accepts it.
As early as 2018, when Engel was 15 years old, the Games in Tokyo were the subject of an interview. “It’s a stark feeling when you’ve been working on something for so many years and then about to do it,” the swimmer reveals. However, he is trying to put a little pressure on himself, his goal: to swim in the best performances and – if possible – to make it in the top three. He also doesn’t underestimate his opponents, such as 11-time gold medalist Ehar Pukki: “I don’t think my age gives me an advantage over Puke. Of course I really want to win my first Paralympic medal, but his successes give him a lot of safety and he’s always very calm, Engel said.
Team spirit in individual sport
Four Paralympics events are held for swimmers with visual impairments. On Friday, Engel already reached the final of the 400m freestyle in the starting class S13. She’s unlikely to get a medal in this race, but for a place on the podium, Engel had to swim ten seconds faster than he did in the race. He has a chance to win a special medal on Wednesday, September 1 at the 100m chest. Additionally, he competes in the 50-meter freestyle and the 200-meter medley. With coach Jochen Stetina, racing tactics and various technical aspects were on the training schedule at his club, 1. FC Nuremberg Swimming, in the weeks leading up to the matches. “Taliso is focused and ambitious. Sure, it’s also fun for everyone, but the FCN first team is a performance class, all our athletes are determined and Taliso fits well into the group,” Stetina says.
Engel loves to train with his team — it’s more difficult for him alone, he says. In addition, many of his teammates are longtime friends. “A lot of people think that team spirit is not evident in swimming because it is an individual sport, but we support each other and encourage each other in competitions,” the swimmer said. Right before the competition begins, he listens to music – to calm down or push, depending on what he needs. In the race itself he does not think about anything, he relies more on his feelings. “You can feel if things are going well or not,” the athlete says. Plus, with only 100m, you don’t have much time to think about it,” he adds.
The sauna in the basement helps you relax
Because his mother wanted him to learn to swim properly, she already enrolled him as a kid in the swimming club – today, with the start of the Paralympics, Taliso Engel hopes for a German medal. Too much tension for an athlete who was born in Pegnitz in 2002? “Talisso has a very good sense of how much he can tire himself out. For his professional degree, school was the priority, now she is back in Tokyo,” says mother Cosima Engel. The swimmer himself says that he can relax better when he meets his friends – which is not easy after training – otherwise “we now have a sauna in the basement,” Talisso Engel adds with a smile. Even when the pressure increases, Engel tries not to get upset. If he manages to maintain his composure at the Paralympics, newspapers should fill in more headlines of his success.
This text is part of this year’s Paralympics newspaper. You can find all the texts in our digital series here.