During the Tokyo Olympics, Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui surprised everyone by winning the gold medal in the men’s 400 freestyle swimming out of lane 8.
Few people believed he could medal, let alone win the gold, mainly because he was not even among the 15 fastest seed times in the event.
But he is not the lowest seeded swimmer to ever win an Olympic gold medal. Instagram’s Swimming Stats page has published the list of the lowest seeded swimmers to win Olympic gold medals since 2000.
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Hafnaoui arrived in Tokyo with a personal best of 3:46.16, which was the 16th-fastest seed time. In Tokyo, he went a 3:43.36 to win the gold.
But, since 2000, there was another swimmer who won an Olympic gold medal with a lower seed time. Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry became the women’s 200 backstroke Olympic champion in 2004 after arriving in Athens seeded 21st. Her entry time was 2:13.87, and she won the event with a 2:09.19, which was a new African record at that time.
In Tokyo, another swimmer with a low seed time also won his event: American Bobby Finke in the men’s 800 freestyle. He had the 12th-fastest entry time and he was not considered a contender for the gold medal, especially considering the long United States’ dry spell in men’s distance events at Olympics—not a single gold medal since 1984. But Finke went on to defeat some of the favorites like Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri and Ukrainian Mykhailo Romanchuk to win the event.
Interestingly, Kirsty Coventry is also the lowest seeded swimmer to win a medal of any color since 2000. She had the 26th-fastest entry time in the women’s 100 back in 2004, and she ended up with the silver medal. In that Olympics, Croatia’s Duje Draganja also arrived in Athens with the 26th-fastest entry time in the men’s 50 free, an event in which he also won the silver medal.
In Tokyo, Ahmed Hafnaoui was the lowest-seeded swimmer to win not only a gold medal, but a medal of any color. Other swimmers that deserve a mention: Finnish Matti Mattsson (bronze in the men’s 200 breast, 15h seed time), Brazilian Fernando Scheffer (bronze in the men’s 200 free, 14th seed time) and Canadian Penny Oleksiak (bronze in the women’s 200 free, 12th seed time).