2024 Worlds Previews: Can Daniel Wiffen Stake Claim On Double Distance Gold?

2024 World Aquatic Championships

In the strangest World Championships in several generations, we’re going to do our best to pick the medalists and finalists for the 2024 World Championships. It’s going to be weird. There are going to be swimmers in finals that most of us have never heard of. We’re going to miss someone obvious who we didn’t expect to race. The list at the top is as valuable as the list at the bottom. Let us know in the comments, and we reserve the right to update picks if y’all inform us of an entry we missed!

With the exception of Bobby Finke, Sam Short, and Lukas Märtens, the men’s 800 and 1500 freestyle fields will look very similar to the line-up from the last World Championships in Fukuoka. The defending champion, Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia, will make the trip to Doha in an attempt to defend his titles.

Florian Wellbrock, Mykhailo Romanchuk, and Gregorio Paltrinieri will also contest both the 800 and 1500 events with Hafnaoui, and all have medaled in each of those events at past World Championships. Ireland’s Daniel Wiffen is another name to watch for in both events, and is the world record holder in the SCM version of the 800 free.

Men’s 800 Free

By the numbers:

  • World Record: Zhang Lin, China – 7:32.12 (2009)
  • World Junior Record: Lorenzo Galossi, Italy – 7:43.37 (2022)
  • Championship Record: Zhang Lin, China – 7:32.12 (2009)
  • Defending Champion: Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – 7:37.00
Returning Top 16 – 2023 World Championships Absent Top 16 – 2023 World Championships
1. Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – 7:37.00 2. Sam Short, Australia – 7:37.76
4. Daniel Wiffen, Ireland – 7:39.19 3. Bobby Finke, United States – 7:38.67
6. Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine – 7:43.08 5. Lukas Märtens, Germany – 7:39.48
7. Guilherme Costa, Brazil – 7:47.26 (7:45.80 in prelims)
8. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy – 7:53.68 (7:44.89 in prelims)
9. Florian Wellbrock, Germany – 7:45.87
10. Marwan Elkamash, Egypt – 7:46.55
11. Luca De Tullio, Italy – 7:46.87
12. David Bethlehem, Hungary – 7:47.02
13. Damien Joly, France – 7:47.44
14. Kim Woo-min, South Korea – 7:47.69
15. Kristof Rasovszky, Hungary – 7:47.93
16. Alfonso Mestre, Venezuela – 7:48.66

Hafnaoui of Tunisia comes into the 800 free as the defending champion, and is seeded over two seconds ahead of the next closest competitor. His winning time of 7:37.00 from Fukuoka situates him as the third fastest performer of all-time, but he has only raced once this season.

It was in early October when he clocked times of 1:49, 3:56, and 8:04 in the 200, 400, and 800 LCM freestyle events at an Indiana dual meet vs. Kentucky. Since then, Hafnaoui has made the move to train under Mark Schubert at TST in California.

Given his lack of racing this season, change of training environment, and history of needing a full taper, he may not be in Fukuoka form at this meet. Coach Schubert may have him prioritize the Olympic Games, giving him a longer time to adjust before a full taper. However, Hafnaoui will not have to rest for any other events prior to Paris, so he may use this meet as a taper check-in to see where he’s at under his new coach. This Doha meet is going to be all over the place in terms of who’s rested, who’s training through, and who even shows up…so we just have to do our best with these predictions.

Top 5 Men’s LCM 800 Freestyle Performers of All-Time:

  1. Zhang Lin (CHN) – 7:32.12 (2009)
  2. Oussama Mellouli (TUN) – 7:35.27 (2009)
  3. Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) – 7:37.00 (2023)
  4. Sam Short (AUS) – 7:37.76 (2023)
  5. Sun Yang (CHN) – 7:38.57 (2011)

Ireland’s Daniel Wiffen is the second fastest entrant into the event, and holds the European record with his 7:39.19 marker from Fukuoka. Wiffen is known to swim fast at multiple meets throughout the year, so it would not be at all too surprising to see him clock a new best time.

Wiffen recently broke the oldest world record on the books, the SCM version of the 800 free at the European Championships in Otopeni. It was a 15-year-old record, and he obliterated it by 2.97 seconds en route to his third individual gold medal of the meet.

The veteran European trio of Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA), Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR), and Florian Wellbrock (GER) are among the other names to watch for.

Romanchuk is now training under Bernd Berkhahn, with training partners Wellbrock and Lukas Märtens. Berkhahn’s group tends to swim fast around this time of the year, so it seems likely this is a big target competition for Romanchuk.

Romanchuk is notably not contesting the open water events prior to the swimming events, something he did last year. This seems to indicate that he is solely focused on posting high performances in the pool events in the lead-up to Paris. However, he was a bit off his best at the recent European Short Course Championships in December. He grabbed bronze in both the 800 and 1500 free events, about 6 seconds off his personal record in the 800 and 13 seconds off in the 1500.

Paltrinieri and Wellbrock will feature in open water events prior to the swimming competition commencing, and it seemed to have adverse effects on their pool performances in Fukuoka.

In Fukuoka, Paltrinieri placed 8th in the 800 (7:53.68, 7:44.89 in prelims) while Wellbrock missed the final altogether, placing 9th (7:45.87). It was the deepest field in the history of the 800 free, and the open water events prior to the swimming portion of the meet appeared to put them at a disadvantage. This is something we took into strong consideration when making our picks this time around.

Wellbrock won the silver medal in this event at the 2022 Budapest World Championships, clocking a national record time of 7:39.63 in the process. However, last year, training partner Lukas Martens clipped that mark en route to 5th place in Fukuoka (7:39.48). It’s important to note that Martens will not be contesting this event in Doha, choosing to focus on the shorter 200/400 free distances in addition to the 200 back.

Paltrinieri has had a plethora of success in the 800, medaling in the event at three consecutive World Championships. His best time of 7:39.27 puts him in the medal conversation, but he has been open about how Paris 2024 is the ultimate goal, so it’s unclear how much focus he is putting towards this meet. Additionally, he is probably more known for his talents in the 1500m distance, but did claim the Olympic silver medal in this event at the Tokyo Olympic Games. He also won the 800m world title back at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju.

Paltrinieri and Wellbrock have not clocked 800 free times this season, and neither has Romanchuk. However, both Paltrinieri and Romanchuk have raced in either other LCM events or in SCM this season.

In the absence of Martens, Sven Schwarz will contest the 800 event with Wellbrock. He has seen a great progression in the event over the past few years, and if he can challenge his best time of 7:41.77 from last year, he may be able to challenge for a medal.

Kim Woomin of South Korea, Guilherme Costa of Brazil, and Australia’s Elijah Winnington are all contenders to make the final as well.

The Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Daniel Wiffen IRL N/A 7:39.19
2 Ahmed Hafnaoui TUN 8:04.76 7:37.00
3 Mykhailo Romanchuk UKR N/A 7:40.05
4 Gregorio Paltrinieri ITA N/A 7:39.27
5 Florian Wellbrock GER N/A 7:39.63
6 Sven Schwarz GER N/A 7:41.77
7 Kim Woomin KOR 7:46.03 7:46.03
8 Elijah Winnington AUS 7:49.98 7:45.30

Men’s 1500 Free

By the numbers:

  • World Record: Sun Yang, China – 14:31.02 (2012)
  • World Junior Record: Franko Grgic, Croatia – 14:46.09 (2019)
  • Championship Record: Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – 14:31.54 (2023)
  • Defending Champion: Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – 14:31.54
Returning Top 16 – 2023 World Championships Absent Top 16 – 2023 World Championships
1. Ahmed Hafnaoui, Tunisia – 14:31.54 2. Bobby Finke, United States – 14:31.59
4. Daniel Wiffen, Ireland – 14:43.01 3. Sam Short, Australia – 14:37.28
6. Kristof Rasovszky, Hungary – 14:51.46 5. Lukas Martens, Germany – 14:44.51
7. Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine – 14:53.21 (14:52.15 in prelims) 14. Daniel Jervis, Great Britain – 14:57.88
8. David Aubry, France – 14:56.63 (14:54.29 in prelims)
9. Marwan Elkamash, Egypt – 14:55.19
10. Damien Joly, France – 14:56.31
11. Charlie Clark, United States – 14:57.16
12. Fei Liwei, China – 14:57.50
13. Luca De Tullio, Italy – 14:57.68
15. David Betlehem, Hungary – 14:59.76
16. Krzysztof Chmielewski, Poland – 15:01.89

The 1500 free is almost the exact same story as the 800 in terms of the top six contenders.

Daniel Wiffen posted a time of 14:48.52 in the event already this season, just weeks prior to his taper for the European Short Course Championships.

Gregorio Paltrinieri posted a swift 14:41.38 back in November, faster than he was all of last season (14:49.02). He also opted to only swim the 5K at the open water portion of this meet, meaning he should face less fatigue due to the 10K being removed from his slate. He contested both the 5K, 10K, and mixed relay for Italy in Fukuoka, all prior to his pool swims.

Ahmed Hafnaoui, Florian Wellbrock, and Mykhailo Romanchuk have not posted a time in the event this season. Hafnaoui is the defending champion in this race, just as he is in the 800. If he is at his best in Doha, he could challenge the world record as his best time is just 0.52 outside of the mark. Again, since he has only raced one since Fukuoka, it’s very hard to get an idea of his current form.

Romanchuk was 14:52.15 at the Fukuoka World Championships, but notably posted times of 14:40.21 and 14:41.39 in early April. If he is able to dip under the 14:40-barrier again, he’ll be a good shot for another Worlds medal.

Sven Schwarz owns a best time of 14:43.53 from 2023, and has been 15:01.17 this season. Schwarz is probably slightly better at the 800 rather than the 1500, but his best time should secure him a spot in his Doha final.

David Aubry of France, who bagged bronze in the 800 free at the 2019 Gwangju Worlds, is the French record holder in this event. He owns a season best time of 14:59.36, and has been as swift as 14:44.72 in his career. Somewhere between his season best time and personal best should be enough for a finals berth, so he’s in with a good shot.

The Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Career Best
1 Daniel Wiffen IRL 14:48.52 14:34.91
2 Ahmed Hafnaoui TUN N/A 14:31.54
3 Gregorio Paltrinieri ITA 14:41.38 14:32.80
4 Florian Wellbrock GER N/A 14:34.89
5 Mykhailo Romanchuk UKR N/A 14:36.10
6 Sven Schwarz GER 15:01.17 14:43.53
7 David Aubry FRA 14:59.36 14:44.72
8 Kristof Rasovszky HUN 15:01.98 14:51.46

Darkhorse: Junior distance ace Kuzey Tuncelli of Turkey is another name to keep a watchful eye on. At just 16-years-old, he holds the Turkish record with his best time of 14:54.16. He won the World Junior title in the event back in September, posting a slightly slower mark of 14:59.80 en route to gold. Given his rapid progression and young age, it would not be too shocking to see him feature in the Doha final.

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2 months ago

Here’s a hot take from a German perspective: Schwarz will beat Wellbrock in the 800 free and at least challenge him to the last meters in the 1500 free.

Bryant V
2 months ago

I’m just lovin’ this Wiffen pic

Steve Friederang
2 months ago

My opinion is a lot of people are lucky David Johnston isn’t being given any respect here. David just missed the American record in the 1,000 a couple months ago with Mark and I doing the backup timing and no one doing the lap counting in La Mirada. He’s been sick and misses a lot of mornings, but still can just crank when he needs and wants to. He’s also picked up some speed(best 200 by a second and half this year) and has worked with us to improve his strokes all fall in spite of his health challenges. Putting Wiffen ahead of Ahmed is interesting. What you failed to mention is that Hafnaoui dropped over 4% last year in… Read more »

2 months ago

Wiffen for the 400-800-1500 triple. That is an interesting choice

2 months ago

Rasovsky not even mentioned???

2 months ago

Hafnaoui is the Rodney Dangerfield of distance swimming.

2 months ago

I think it’s more likely Hafnaoui scratches the meet entirely than getting triple silver

2 months ago

It’ll certainly be an interesting meet given Daniel’s continued progress under Andi Manley in Loughborough, and the reality that most Global SwimFans are very excited for these events in Paris, so this will be an excellent taster for us all. Good Luck to Daniel !! Fortune favours the Brave!!