Oldest Olympic Swimmer In History: Baleka To Compete For Guinea-Bissau At 50

Siphiwe Baleka is set to become the oldest swimmer in Olympic history in Tokyo after being selected to compete for the West African republic of Guinea-Bissau on June 17.

Baleka, 50, was born and raised in the United States (Oswego, Ill.) and went to Yale as a collegiate swimmer before attempting to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 1992 Games in Barcelona—then under the name “Tony Blake.”

Since then, in addition to adopting his new name “Siphiwe Baleka” from tribal elders in South Africa, according to Sports Illustrated, Baleka has been a truck driver and a 13-time U.S. Masters Swimming national champion. He currently resides in Springfield, Mo.

On June 10, Baleka officially became a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Guinea-Bissau, following the Council of Ministers of the Government of Guinea-Bissau completing his “naturalization process.”

In addition to being the oldest Olympic swimmer ever, Baleka will also be the first from Guinea-Bissau, which has never sent more than five athletes to a single Games. The team will not be sending a female swimmer.

Baleka will be allowed to compete under the universality rules put in place by the IOC and FINA to allow smaller nations and those developing swimming programs to send athletes to the Games.

Due to the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, universality selections simply needed approval from FINA, rather than having to compete at the 2019 World Championships, which was a requirement before the pandemic delayed the Games.

Universality selections are put in place to give swimmers from the smaller and under-developed countries an opportunity to compete on the biggest stage. In this sense, Baleka is taking advantage of the system, finding any and all loopholes to compete at the Games.

Baleka’s tie to Guinea-Bissau comes from “genetic testing which determined that his paternal ancestors descended from the Balanta people of Guinea-Bissau,” according to the official press release on Guinea-Bissau’s announcement. “Mr. Baleka is the first ‘Afro-descendant’ from the United States to receive citizenship in Guinea-Bissau based on DNA results, and will be the first such  athlete to compete for his ancestral homeland.”

According to the USA Swimming’s database, Baleka has three long course 50 free swims on record during the 2020-21 season in February, all ranging between 25.20 and 25.53. In the 100, he has a pair of 55.9s from the same meet.

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Joe
3 months ago

25.2 is pretty fast for 50!

Deep End
Reply to  Joe
3 months ago

More impressed by a 55.9. Sprint-durance is rough with age

Disgusted
3 months ago

This is NOT ok!! These spots are to build a nation, not for someone who is in his 50’s living and working in the USA. This man needs to check his privilege and look at the Olympic charter. Going to the Olympics is a privilege, not a right, and this man is taking it that it is his right to compete. It was only genetic testing that is getting him there. This makes my blood boil, his time should be spent finding an actual person who lives (born and bred) in Guinea-Bissau and get them to the Olympics.

Dressel’s Eagle
Reply to  Disgusted
3 months ago

Not pleased at all with this loophole. American raised and trained at one of our top universities is not what the universality ethos of the Olympics for small and developing nations is about. So many American athletes have lineage back to other nations and you don’t see all of us mediocre swimmers searching for loopholes to get the games. DNA testing? Come on. This is not what the Olympics is about.

Foreign Embassy
Reply to  Dressel’s Eagle
3 months ago

{Santo Condorelli has left the chat}

Sun Yangs Hammer
Reply to  Foreign Embassy
3 months ago

Santo punching the air rn

Siphiwe Baleka
Reply to  Dressel’s Eagle
3 months ago

I was t searching for a loophole. During a visit to Guinea Bissau in January 2020 that had nothing to do with swimming, I was invited by the Ministry of Sport to become a naturalized citizen and compete for Guinea Bissau. They wanted my help since I’m ancestry is from there and I had the experience. My participation is how they are building a swim program from scratch. How else are they going to get such help? There is not a long line of people wanting to go live in Guinea Bissau but I do it happily.

Swimmer
Reply to  Siphiwe Baleka
3 months ago

But Guinea-Bissau doesn’t allow dual citizenship. Or, am I wrong? Best regards

The White Whale
Reply to  Disgusted
3 months ago

My question is whether he’s taking the spot from a Bissau-Guinean. If he is, then I agree. If not, then kudos to him for finding a path to the Olympics.

kim
Reply to  The White Whale
3 months ago

He is not. He will be Guinea Bissau’s first Olympic swimmer. He is also a dual citizen of Guinea Bissau and is living, training and working in Guinea Bissau. Hopefully that clears up any confusion.

swimapologist
Reply to  kim
3 months ago

kim – don’t you think you should clarify that you work for a PR firm that was hired to promote and publicize Mr. Siphiwe’s achievement?

Kim
Reply to  swimapologist
3 months ago

?? I don’t actually. I’m a fellow Yalie who is inspired by and in awe of this incredible human being. And for that reason, I am helping and supporting him on this journey. He does not have the benefit of American generational wealth. And Guinea Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world. I’m proud to be able to help this fellow human being.

Siphiwe Baleka
Reply to  Disgusted
3 months ago

I do live in Guinea Bissau now and will be returning after the Olympics to build their national swim team. I activated their swimming federation and now Guinea Bissau is getting the attention it needs to attract resources. They are thrilled with the spotlight they are receiving. For more about my work in Guinea Bissau go to https://www.417mag.com/people/profiles/siphiwe-baleka-preserving-ancestral-culture/

kim
Reply to  Disgusted
3 months ago

As a citizen of Guinea Bissau and its first Olympic swimmer, he is working to build a nation. He is living, training and working in Guinea Bissau and hopes to run an Olympic training program there as well as teach the history of the Balanta people at a university there (a history that he researched when there was none, that has been translated into Portuguese, and that is now the definitive history of the Balanta people). But you are correct, were he working and living in the US and not an actual Guinea Bissau citizen, you would have a point.

Emmanuel Rusford
Reply to  Disgusted
2 months ago

You could not have stated this better. I agree with your argument whole-heartedly!!!!! This is an Olympic 🏊‍♀️ disgrace indeed!

International Swimmer
Reply to  Emmanuel Rusford
2 months ago

It is rare to find a quality NCAA program (I, II, or III) without significant numbers of swimmers (i.e. 25yr old freshmen from Italy, Serbia, France, England, Austria, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands,Japan etc) who live and train in the US (some for decades) and then go to represent their “countries” interest at international competitions including the olympics….Many NCAA teams have more than 50% of their teams recruited from outside of the US on scholarship no less. I guess fair is fair.

International Swimmer
Reply to  Disgusted
2 months ago

“Born and Bred” huh? There are plenty of olympians who represent countries they are not born, bred, or trained in.

As a matter of fact, It is rare to find a quality NCAA program (I, II, or III) without significant numbers of swimmers (i.e. 25yr old freshmen from Italy, Serbia, France, England, Austria, Australia, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands,Japan etc) who live and train in the US (some for decades) and then go to represent their “countries” interest at international competitions including the olympics….Many NCAA teams have more than 80% of their teams recruited from outside of the US on scholarship no less. I guess fair is fair.

IU Swammer
3 months ago

Good for him. I swear I saw a news piece on him around masters nationals. He does dryland in the parking lot next to his truck and swims when/where he can.

ZH
3 months ago

He’s legit, he’s been swimming for years, his times are respectful and I will be rooting for him. let’s not forget, the Olympics are not the World Championships, the Olympics is an international sports festival that is supposed to promote “Joy of Effort, Fair Play, Respect for Others; pursuit of excellence; and balance between body, will and mind.”

swimapologist
Reply to  ZH
3 months ago

You forgot to include “loopholes” in your list of things that the Olympics are alleged to be about.

Does jamming more Americans in through Universality back doors really satisfy what the Olympics are supposed to be about?

kim
Reply to  swimapologist
3 months ago

He is a citizen of Guinea Bissau, and he lives, trains and works there. He has dual citizenship. So, in this case, he is not an American being jammed through.

zimyaweh
Reply to  kim
3 months ago

Ok but until a year ago, he’d never been to nor heard of this country.

Look, I’m happy for him that he found a way him. From what I’ve seen on social media, he’s a tireless self-promoter who is willing to go to great lengths to become well-known. So, he found a way to make it happen for himself.

Congrats.

I still say that this isn’t the point of the Universality system, and threatens to collapse it altogether.

Gator
3 months ago

Truly inspiring to all Masters swimmers!!!

ole 99
3 months ago

Finally we get to talk about some old timer, Gen X stuff…

At the 1989 IHSA State Championships he was 1:57.99 in the 200 IM (4th Place) and 47.64 in the 100 free (8th Place). The 100 free time would still have qualified for 2020 state meet. That IM was pre backstroke flip turns (1991).

Interesting
3 months ago

Can we discuss about the fact that he went to Yale to pursuit a truck driver’s career? Don’t want to be disrespectful to truck drivers at all I think this is awesome! If more people were like him it could take some of the pressure, anxiety and mental health problems from top 10 schools graduates. Most of them have a goal to pursuit a career that will make them a millionaire one day no matter what it takes since they got into a prestigious school and their parents most likely invested lots of money in their education. Maybe happiness and simplicity can be better choices regardless of which university one goes to?

Deep End
3 months ago

Can we get an interview??? Really wanna hear more of his story

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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