2023 Swammy Awards: African Male Swimmer of the Year – Ahmed Hafnaoui

See all of our 2023 Swammy Awards here.

AFRICAN MALE SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: AHMED HAFNAOUI

After winning a surprise 400-meter freestyle Olympic gold medal out of lane eight in Tokyo two years ago, Ahmed Hafnaoui didn’t register an official race in 2022. But the 21-year-old Tunisian distance specialist made up for lost time in 2023.

Hafnaoui began the 2023 World Championships with an African record in the 400 free, taking silver behind Australia’s Sam Short (3:40.68) with a time of 3:40.70. He dropped more than two seconds off his previous-best 3:43.36 from the Olympics, becoming the fifth-fastest performer ever and erasing a super-suited African record from the books that belonged to fellow Tunisian Ous Mellouli (3:41.11) from the 2009 World Championships.

A few days later, Hafnaoui topped the podium in the 800 free with a personal-best 7:37.00, the fastest time ever in a textile suit behind world record holder Zhang Lin (7:32.12) and Mellouli (7:35.27). He outpaced a historically fast field as Short (7:37.76), Bobby Finke (7:38.67), and Daniel Wiffen (7:39.19) ranked 4th, 7th, and 9th all-time, respectively. Hafnaoui came into the meet with a lifetime best of 7:45.54 from the French National Championships in June of 2021 before going 7:41.97 in prelims, ultimately dropping more than eight seconds throughout the day.

Hafnaoui saved his best for last at Worlds, closing out the meet with a huge personal-best 14:31.54 in the 1500 free that held off Finke by just .05 seconds for his second world title. Hafnaoui and Finke’s times were the second- and third-fastest ever behind Sun Yang‘s world record (14:31.02) from 2012.

Hafnaoui also took down another one of Mellouli’s super-suited African records (14:37.28 from 2009). He came into the meet with a lifetime best of 15:00.24 from February that he lowered to 14:49.53 in prelims. Heading into this year, his best time was 15:16.04 from the 2019 World Championships.

To recap: At just 20 years old, Hafnaoui dropped more than two seconds in the 400 free, eight seconds in the 800 free, and 28 seconds in the 1500 free to rank as the No. 5, No. 3, and No. 2 performer ever, respectively. He and Short (gold in 400, silver in 800, bronze in 1500) became the first men to medal in all three distance freestyle events since Sun swept the 400 free, 800 free, and 1500 free at the 2013 World Championships, though Short also accomplished the feat this year.

Hafnaoui spent the majority of this year training at Indiana University in Bloomington. He spent the spring sitting out the collegiate season after being ruled a partial qualifier academically last fall, but he made his NCAA debut for the Hoosiers this fall with multiple wins in a pair of meets in October. However, last month, he moved to The Swim Team (TST) in Lake Forest, California, leaving his NCAA career in question.

Regardless of his future with Indiana, Hafnaoui established himself as the best male distance freestyle specialist in the world this year and a legitimate threat to sweep the 400, 800, and 1500 at the Paris 2024 Olympics next summer. What’s more, he’s at the forefront of a group injecting life back into the longest races on the lineup.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

  • Pieter Coetze, South Africa – The 19-year-old backstroke specialist didn’t compete at the 2023 World Championships, but his personal-best 24.36 from the 2023 South African Championships in April would have won bronze in Fukuoka, Japan. Coetze’s personal-best 52.78 100 back from the same meet would have placed 5th at Worlds. He also won the 50 back (24.89), 100 back (53.44), and 200 back (1:56.32) at August’s European U23 Swimming Championships while also earning runner-up finishes in the 50 back (24.89) and 100 back (53.49) at October’s World Cup stop in Athens, Greece.
  • Abdelrahman Elaraby, Egypt – At February’s ACC Championships, the Louisville senior posted a personal-best 18.79 to capture the 50-yard freestyle conference crown. “It’s crazy to think that I’m still here,” said Elaraby, who attempted suicide last year. “It’s okay to fall. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to lose the battle just don’t lose the war. I lost the battle last year, and this one’s for everybody that lost the battle.” He announced his transfer to Notre Dame in April for his fifth year of collegiate eligibility this season. At the 2023 World Championships in July, Elaraby set an Egyptian record of 22.94 during the 50-meter butterfly semifinals — just .04 seconds shy of Roland Schoeman‘s African record from 2009 — before placing 8th in the final (23.34). He kept his momentum rolling this fall with a 50 fly victory (23.04) at the World Cup stop in Athens.

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Khachaturian
3 months ago

Get this guy tapered to do a 800 SCM free I bet he goes sub 7:20

AgentBond
3 months ago

Qin + Marchand edge him just, due to there WR exploits…

Marc P
Reply to  AgentBond
3 months ago

And 3 individual gold, compared to Hafnaoui’s 2 gold + 1 silver

AgentBond
Reply to  Marc P
3 months ago

I don’t agree, no one was missing in Hafnaoui’s events. Marchand 200Fly could bb seen as a ‘cheap’ win and I mean that respectfully. Qin, more difficult to suggest ‘no Peaty’, but, ‘no Peaty’.

Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
Reply to  AgentBond
3 months ago

If you look at the ‘historical significance’ of their swims I still think Hafnaoui ranks 3rd, but all three were incredible. Performer ranks in history for each event:

Marchand
200 Fly: 3
200IM: 4
400IM: 1
Total: 8

Qin
50 Breast: 2
100 Breast: 2
200 Breast: 1
Total: 5

Hafnaoui
400 Free: 5
800 Free: 3
1500 Free: 2
Total: 10

Marc P
3 months ago

Top 3 male swimmers of the year, along with Qin Haiyang and Leon Marchand.

Nick the biased Aussie
Reply to  Marc P
3 months ago

I can’t just do top 3, what’s your top 5?
1. Qin
2. Marchand
3. Hafnoui
4. Short
5. Ceccon

Emily Se-Bom Lee
Reply to  Nick the biased Aussie
3 months ago

same but replace ceccon with grousset

Marc P
Reply to  Nick the biased Aussie
3 months ago

1. Qin

2. Marchand

3. Hafnaoui

4. Short

5. Ceccon and Grousset

Daniel
3 months ago

I think Daniel wiffen gonna beat him

Sweet Sweet Peter Rosen
3 months ago

Schoeman. Best body of work of all time

Troyy
Reply to  Sweet Sweet Peter Rosen
3 months ago

Also pro-doping.

Sub13
3 months ago

Arguably the most obvious winner in any category. Can’t wait to see what he does in Paris

Marc P
Reply to  Sub13
3 months ago

Male swimmer of the year is between Qin Haiyang and Leon Marchand. But he’s absolutely #3.

Emily Se-Bom Lee
Reply to  Marc P
3 months ago

not according to the (mostly arab) voters in world aquatics’ poll

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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