With a spectacular 400m freestyle gold medal, Tunisian youngster Ahmed Hafnaoui generated one of the biggest stirs of the Tokyo Olympics thus far – but said his enormous personal best was simply down to "hard effort."
The 18-year-old sprinted a dramatic last 50 meters to win in 3:43.36 seconds, beating off Australian Jack McLoughlin for silver and American Kieran Smith for bronze.
The Tunisian's achievement was made even more amazing by the fact that his personal best at the start of 2021 was six seconds slower, at 3:49.90. And, after improving to 3:46.16 in the lead-up to Tokyo, he was still only 16th in the field.
Hafnaoui nodded when asked if he was surprised to win. He replied, "Of course." “It's incredible. I wasn't convinced until I touched the wall and saw my own face. I think it was in the [last] 200m when I noticed the Australian guy from lane six. At the end, it was a fantastic battle. I'm in terrific shape. I'm pleased with myself.”
Journalists questioned Hafnaoui's extraordinary improvement, asking how he improved so much after finishing eighth in the 2018 Youth Olympics. He admitted, "I was startled at first that I was a finalist." “Now I'm astonished I earned a gold medal,” she says. That's all. I just worked hard with my coach.”
Hafnaoui also praised Oussama Mellouli, a fellow Tunisian who came back from an Adderall-related drugs ban to win gold in the 1500m freestyle at the 2008 Olympics and the 10km marathon at London 2012. Mellouli, 37, will also be competing in these Games, trying to win his third gold medal in the open water swim of his career.
“I have a fantastic relationship with him,” Hafnaoui said. “Before the race, he wished me luck. I also wish him well in the 10k open water swim. He is a living legend. One day, I hope to be like him.”
Others 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.
He explained, "We had extensive testing back at home, exactly as normal." “And I believe it has been the same all around the world. We've had so many tests while we've been here, and the Japanese have done an excellent job of drug testing everyone, so I don't think there's much to say.”
On the second day of competition in the pool, home swimmer Yui Ohashi won gold in the women's 400m individual medley, bringing joy to Japan. Aimee Wilmott of the United Kingdom, on the other hand, was in tears after putting everything on the line and finishing seventh.