- Ahmed Hafnaoui won gold Sunday in the 400-meter freestyle at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
- What made Hafnaoui's victory all the more extraordinary was that he was not expected to win.
- Hafnaoui was the slowest qualifier and had to compete in the outside lane.
Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia the slowest qualifier for a men’s Olympic swimming event shocked the world when he ended up winning gold.
The 18-year-old had to compete in the outside lane having only narrowly advanced to the championship race.
He appeared to peak at the opportune moment, however, as his time of three minutes and 43.36 seconds was enough to edge the runner-up, Jack McLoughlin of Australia, by 0.16 seconds.
The American swimmer Kieran Smith finished third with a time of 3:43.94 seconds.
But Ahmed Hafnaoui’s dramatic improvement was questioned by journalists who asked how he improved so much after coming eighth in the 2018 Youth Olympics. “I was surprised at first that I was a finalist,” he said. “And now I am surprised I won a gold medal. I just worked hard with my coach, that’s it.”
Ahmed Hafnaoui also praised his fellow Tunisian, Oussama Mellouli, who returned from an Adderall-related drugs ban to win 1500m freestyle gold at the 2008 Olympics and 10km marathon gold at London 2012. Mellouli, at 37, will also be back at these Games hoping to add a third gold medal of his career in the open water swim.
“I have a great relationship with him,” explained Hafnaoui. “He wished me good luck before the race. And I wish him well in the 10k open water. He is a legend. I wish to be like him one day.”
Others have raised concerns about whether results at these Games can be trusted given the lack of testing during the pandemic, but when asked McLoughlin played that down.
“We have had rigorous testing back at home, just like normal,” he said. “And I think throughout the world it has been the same. Since we have been here we have had so many tests and the Japanese have done a really good job at drug testing everybody, so I don’t think there’s anything to say about it.”