The NCAA has ruled Indiana freshman Ahmed Hafnaoui a partial qualifier based on academics, meaning the surprise Tokyo Olympic champion must sit out the 2022-23 season in academic residence.
The NCAA applies three tiers of qualification to student-athletes: non-qualifier, partial qualifier, and full qualifier. As a partial qualifier, Hafnaoui is able to compete with the team, retain his full scholarship (which counts against the team’s cap even though he is not competing), and attend classes. He is also allowed to compete in outside competition. As long as he maintains a 2.0 GPA in his year in residence at Indiana, he will become fully eligible to compete for the varsity squad next season.
The 19-year-old from Tunisia will still have four years of eligibility if he becomes academically eligible after the year-long residence. Hafnaoui is still expected to train with the Hoosiers this year in Bloomington and compete at the 2022 World Short Course Championships in Melbourne in December. Indiana head coach Ray Looze says he may participate in some World Cup meets as well.
Hafnaoui committed to Indiana last September, soon after his breakout 400-meter freestyle victory in Tokyo. He came into the Summer Games ranked 17th in the world in the event for 2021 and qualified eighth for the final by just .14 seconds. Then from lane eight, he pulled off a stunner, lowering his personal best by 2.8 seconds between the heats and final to win in a time of 3:43.36.
Further illustrating Hafnaoui’s meteoric rise was the fact that he only placed eighth at the 2018 Youth Olympics in the 400 free and 10th at the 2019 World Juniors before becoming the Olympic champion.
Hafnaoui has no recorded results in 2022 on his FINA profile. He resumed training again around June after taking the first half of the year off to focus on his school studies.
Looze says that preparations for the Olympics, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupted Hafnaoui’s academic progress, especially his work on learning English. Looze says that he was impressed by how hard Hafnaoui worked, and the sacrifice he made by skipping the World Championships, to study for his exams to gain the partial qualification.
Hafnaoui was set to provide a huge boost to Indiana’s freestyle group this year. The Hoosiers begin their season Wednesday at Kentucky.