Al Saadi will dive into the pool for the 100m backstroke, looking to lower his PB and UAE national record of 58.41 seconds.
“I know he can do it, physically he’s definitely at a level to go faster but Olympics will bring another level of challenge,” Karvonen told Sport360.
“Even though he’s been at the World Championships and other big meets, Olympics is a completely different game.”
Karvonen, who took over the reins of the UAE swim squad last December, sees lots of potential in the Al Ain Club backstroker but believes Al Saadi needs to work on his physique.
The 20-year-old is tall and skinny, with a body that doesn’t resemble the strongly-built broad-shouldered swimmers you typically see on TV.
Getting physically stronger is on top of the agenda moving forward, says the Finnish coach.
“My main focus is his physical strength and size also. He is 180cm and 60 kilos. Obviously he’s not physically yet on the level that international swimming nowadays needs. Just by improving his strength we would see massive improvements,” said Karvonen.
“But it’s a long process because you have to introduce the idea of weight training, strength training and then progressively build on that. You can’t just jump into a world record holder programme, you start with the basics. His swimming training has been great but in my opinion the strength training has been neglected.”
While working with Egyptian coach Mohamed El Zanaty last year, Al Saadi managed to shave two full seconds off his PB in the 100m backstroke, and set a new Gulf record in the 50m.
The Al Ain Academy student agrees with Karvonen that he must work harder on his physical condition but also notes the progress he has made so far.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot. I used to train with the Egyptian coach, he improved my turns, my underwater – my actual swimming has always been strong but there were certain aspects that needed tweaking and he helped me do that. I had the same timing for over a year and he’s the one who helped me lower it. Within eight months (from January to August 2015), my time went down from one minute to 58 seconds,” said Al Saadi.
Karvonen feels Al Saadi’s competitive edge and easy-going personality make him a great swimmer to coach.
“Yaaqoob’s strength is definitely his personality. He is very, very even. It’s very easy to – I don’t want to say control him, but it doesn’t matter, he’s in the same mood day in, day out. And even if his mood changes, he still swims pretty much the same,” said Karvonen.
“And also he has a very competitive nature, he gets the best out of him in competitions. Usually he’s a little bit better than I expect him to be based on practice. So that is actually a very good mental quality.
“As far as physical qualities, he is definitely a big, big swimming talent, but for various reasons his physical training hasn’t been up to international par before.
“He’s very, very fast. He has a very natural feel for the water, which is a thing that is very hard to teach for anyone. You either have it or struggle with it and he definitely has it. He’s very very fast, especially for his size, and a natural talent in every way.”
Al Saadi is excited about competing at his first Olympics and has a particular swimmer in mind that he is hoping to meet in Rio.
“I am keen to meet Alia Atkinson, the Jamaican swimmer. I’m a big fan of hers,” he gushes.