Doha, February 10, 2024, The Europe Today: Defending champion Ahmed Hafnaoui, the Tunisian swimming sensation, has tempered expectations regarding a potential assault on Sun Yang’s long-standing 1,500-meter freestyle world record at the ongoing World Championships in Doha. Despite his scintillating performance last year in Fukuoka, where he secured the title with a time of 14:31.54, making it the second-fastest swim in history, Hafnaoui is adamant that the Doha meet is primarily a stepping stone towards his Olympic aspirations.
Speaking to reporters at the Aspire Dome on Saturday, Hafnaoui clarified, “I don’t think so… Me and my coach just decided to treat it as a preparation meet. All the focus right now is just for Paris. Nothing more.” The 21-year-old swimmer’s eyes are set on the upcoming Olympics in Paris, where he aims to continue his remarkable journey in the pool.
In 2021, Hafnaoui made global headlines by clinching the 400m freestyle gold from lane eight at the Tokyo Olympics, defying expectations as the slowest qualifier in the final. After taking a brief hiatus in 2022 for academic pursuits, Hafnaoui made a triumphant return last year, securing the 800 and 1,500 world titles in Fukuoka and claiming silver in the 400 behind Australia’s Sam Short.
Now based in California under the guidance of former U.S. team head coach Mark Schubert, Hafnaoui’s bid to sweep the 400-800-1500 treble at the Doha World Championships has garnered significant attention. Notably, his competitors Short and Bobby Finke, the third-fastest swimmer of all time in the 1,500, have chosen to skip the meet.
Hafnaoui, a hero in Tunisia, expressed his admiration for Oussama Mellouli, the trailblazer who became the first African man to win an individual Olympic swimming gold in 2008. Mellouli’s achievements, including gold in the 10km open water swim at the London Games, have inspired Hafnaoui, who envisions expanding his program to include open water swimming after Paris.
As Hafnaoui plunges into action on the first day of the Doha meet for the 400, anticipation is high, given the strong field, which includes German Fukuoka bronze medallist Lukas Maertens, Australian former world champion Elijah Winnington, and Irish sensation Daniel Wiffin.
Hafnaoui’s journey continues to captivate the world, and his quest for greatness in distance swimming is poised to leave an indelible mark on the sport.