Tokyo 2020, Africa Day 1: Hafnaoui Makes History With Upset 400 Free Gold


Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui orchestrated the first major upset of the swimming competition in Tokyo, winning Olympic gold in the men’s 400 freestyle from out in Lane 8 in what was a truly stunning result.

Hafnaoui, 18, had a strong showing in the prelims just to get into the final, lowering his best time from 3:46.16 to 3:45.68 to snag eighth place after coming in seeded 16th, but that was only the beginning.

Hafnaoui was an afterthought coming into the final—despite hitting a PB in the heats, he still had the slowest lifetime best among the eight finalists.

The 2018 Youth Olympian got off to a strong start, out of sight of the men in the center lanes, turning second at the halfway mark behind Australia’s Jack McLoughlin, who was also out on the outside in Lane 2.

Having created a bit of separation on the field, the two men duelled it out over the last 50 from opposite ends of the pool. As they crossed the flags over the final few meters, Hafnaoui inched in front. The gold was his.

The shock on his face, and the exuberance of his coach in the stands, said it all.

His final time: 3:43.36. 2.32 seconds faster than the night before, and 2.80 better than his best time coming in. (McLoughlin was less than two tenths back for silver in 3:43.52, and American Kieran Smith won the bronze in 3:43.94.)

However, the time is not even a Tunisian Record, as Hafnaoui is the second freestyler from the North African nation of 11.6 million to have made an impact on the world stage.

Ous Mellouli is swimming royalty in Tunisia, winning the country’s first-ever gold in the sport in the men’s 1500 freestyle in 2008. Mellouli, now 37, won a second Olympic gold medal in the 10k open water event in 2012, and also picked up a bronze in the mile (he’s slated to compete in his sixth Olympics in the open water event here in Tokyo).

That gives Hafnaoui Tunisia’s third medal in history in the pool, and it’s also Africa’s first in the 400 freestyle, period.

Mellouli came close in Beijing, placing fifth in what was an African Record at the time (3:43.45), but Hafnaoui earns the distinction as the first African medalist in the 400 free.

As an aside, here’s a crazy little bit of information on Hafnaoui’s meteoric rise to the top. He was eighth at the 2018 Youth Olympics in the 400 free, 10th at the 2019 World Juniors, and now he’s the Olympic champion.

Mellouli would lower the African and Tunisian Records in the event down to 3:41.11 during the “super-suit era” in 2009, when records fell by the wayside at an astonishing rate. Now that’s just something new for Hafnaoui to shoot for.

Hafnaoui is far from done here in Tokyo. In fact, the best still may be yet to come.

Coming into the Games, on paper, his better event was the 800 free, which will be contested for the first time at the Olympics this year. Hafnaoui set a best time of 7:45.54 last month, seeding him eighth. And if the 400 is any indication, he may well finish much higher than that in a few days time.

Continental & National Records On Day 1

  • Men’s 100 breaststroke: Sudan – Abobakr Abass, 1:04.46

African Medal Table Through Day 1

SwimSwam News – 2020 Tokyo Olympics
Pool Swimming Medal Table
Nation Total Medals Gold Silver Bronze
Tunisia 1 1

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2 months ago

Where does Hafnaoui train?

2 months ago

at this point, what the hell do we know?

Queen Simone
2 months ago


2 months ago

I’m honestly just letting wheel decide do my predictions for now on.

2 months ago

Pumped for him, keep the momentum and smash a new barrier in the 800M Final!

Lex Soft
Reply to  John
2 months ago

I expect him to start away from the centre again, so that Gregorio Paltrinieri and Mykhailo Romanchuk won’t be able to keep their eyes on the kid during the whole race.

2 months ago

Best moment so far

2 months ago

Huge upset, just huge! Anyone know where he trains or who is his coach? Honestly, I never heard of him until this morning, but give the young man credit. He was fantastic. Wow.

Reply to  Billy
2 months ago

I did a little digging. He was 7:49 in the 800 at Junior World’s in 2019 at the age of 16 so was always a huge talent.

Coming into the meet the 800 was probably his better event. He was 7:45 and 3:46 at French Trials.

Reply to  Riccardo
2 months ago

I tried to do some digging, but I’m unable to read French or Arabic…

Jiang Yang
Reply to  Billy
2 months ago

You can find all that info on his swimrankings profile in English.

Lex Soft
Reply to  Billy
2 months ago

When I knew he made it to the final yesterday with good time record, I expected something interesting in the final, but not gold. I remembered how Ousamma Mellouli did big thing in 1500m at Beijing 2008, beating Grant Hackett. But I didn’t expect Ahmed Hafanoui would not go that huge.
It also reminds me of Salim Illes, the Algerian sprinter who reached the finals of both 50m free and 100m free at Athens 2004.

Reply to  Billy
2 months ago

His coach Jobrane Touili ​​is only 30 years old and has been training him since the age of 10. He trains in Ezzahra tunis

2 months ago

If anyone was watching, he wore his mask the LEAST. Proof that non-mask wearing optimizes performance. WADA will be sure to ban it soon.

Last edited 2 months ago by John
Li Shu
Reply to  John
2 months ago

I like wearing the mask when wet, feels like I’m getting waterboarded 😁

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  John
2 months ago

Satire people, satire

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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