Tunisian teenager Ahmed Hafnaoui caused one of the biggest thrills of the Tokyo Olympics so far with a stunning gold in the 400m freestyle – but insisted his personal best was purely due to “hard work”.
The 18-year-old called up an exciting final 50m to come home in 3min 43.36sec to beat silver-winning Jack McLoughlin of Australia and American Kieran Smith, who won the bronze. What made the Tunisian’s performance even more impressive was that his PB at the start of 2021 was six seconds slower at 3: 49.90. And although he improved that to 3: 46.16 in preparation in Tokyo, he was still only ranked 16th in the field.
When asked if he was surprised to win, Hafnaoui nodded. “Of course,” he said. ” It’s incredible. I didn’t believe it until I hit the wall and saw my face first. I saw the Australian from lane six I guess in the 200m. It was a big fight at the end. I feel good. I feel proud.
But Hafnaoui’s dramatic improvement was questioned by reporters who asked how he had improved so much after his eighth place at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. “At first I was surprised to be a finalist “, did he declare. “And now I’m surprised I won a gold medal. I just worked hard with my trainer, that’s all.
Hafnaoui also congratulated fellow Tunisian Oussama Mellouli, who returned from an Adderall-related drug ban to win gold in the 500m freestyle at the 2008 Olympics and gold in the 10k marathon in London 2012 Mellouli, 37, will also return to these Games in hopes of adding a third gold of his career in open water swimming.
“I have a great relationship with him,” Hafnaoui explained. “He wished me good luck before the race. And I wish him good luck in the 10 km in open water. He is a legend. I wish to be like him one day.
Others questioned whether the results of these Games could be reliable given the lack of testing during the pandemic, but when asked, McLoughlin played that down.
“We went through rigorous testing at home as usual,” he said. “And I think all over the world it’s been the same. Since we’ve been here we’ve been through so much testing and the Japanese have done a really good job of testing everyone, so I don’t think there’s anything to say about that.
Elsewhere, on day two of action in the pool, Japan were elated when local swimmer Yui Ohashi won gold in the women’s 400m individual medley. However, Briton Aimee Wilmott was left in tears after putting everything on the line and placing seventh.
American Chase Kalisz took top honors on the men’s side, but Briton Max Litchfield struggled to speak after finishing fourth – the same position he held in Rio. “It’s gutting,” Litchfield said. “So close but so far. I have done all I can over the past five years, but not enough.
There was also no joy for the British women’s 4x100m relay team, as they finished behind Australia, who set a world record of 3: 29.69.
However, there was better news for the GB team on Sunday morning as Adam Peaty calmly qualified for the 100m breaststroke final in 57.63 seconds – more than a second ahead of his closest rival – and was also joined by James Wilby.
“I knew what I had to do,” said Peaty, who smiled when told his closest rival Arno Kamminga was eager to meet him in the final. “I would be worried if it wasn’t the case,” he added. “You want to chase the world record holder. I love to run, I am a junkyard and I know when it comes to the last 15 I have something that no one else has.