Olympic Champ Ahmed Hafnaoui Set For Long-Awaited Competition Return in Knoxville

Ahmed Hafnaoui -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Ahmed Hafnaoui Set For Long-Awaited Competition Return in Knoxville

Looking back more than 17 months later, the result remains one of the most unexpected Olympic races in recent memory. Ahmed Hafnaoui was the youngest swimmer in the 400 freestyle final at the Tokyo Olympics, and his best time was more than three seconds slower behind the quickest entry mark in the field. He had posted the fastest mark of his career in prelims just to qualify in the eighth spot for the final by just 0.14 over Switzerland’s Antonio Djakovic.

But when the dust settled, the 18-year-old Hafnaoui was a gold medalist, just the third Olympic gold ever in swimming for Tunisia and the fifth Olympic gold overall. Hafanoui set an aggressive pace early on and stuck close to the race leader, Australia’s Jack McLoughlin, and then he raced ahead of the Aussie on the final 50 to win gold, setting off a stupendous reaction of joy.

Since Tokyo, however, Hafnaoui has been barely made an impact on the major stage. He competed at the Short Course World Championships in December 2021, where he surprisingly missed the final of the 400 free before claiming silver in the 1500 free. He did not race at any major meets in 2022, including the summer’s World Championships, and his planned debut in college swimming at Indiana University was postponed when he was ruled academically ineligible for the 2022-23 season.

This weekend, Hafnaoui will compete at an on-the-radar competition in Knoxville, Tenn., at the opening meet of the TYR Pro Swim Series. Hafnaoui, now 20, is already training at Indiana as he aims to become academically eligible. After he entered the FINA World Cup meet in Indianapolis this fall but did not end up racing, Hafnaoui will be set to go up against tough American competition such as Bobby Finke and Kieran Smith in the 400, 800 and 1500 free.

Of course, Hafnaoui has shared a podium with Smith previously as the American claimed 400 free bronze in that exciting Olympic final, and Smith looks to be reclaiming top form after mining 400 free gold at the Short Course World Championships last month. Sure, neither man will likely be close to their 3:43 best times this early in the season, but Smith will still provide a good measuring stick for the Tunisian. Finke, meanwhile, is among the best distance swimmers in the world, and the psych sheet also includes U.S. Olympian Michael Brinegar, U.S. World Championships team member Charlie Clark and Egyptian veteran Marwan Elkamash in the longer events.

Knoxville will serve as a testing grounds for Hafnaoui, a chance to regain the feel for racing after a long layoff with sights set on more lofty goals. Hafnaoui’s events have become much quicker internationally during his absence, but given his credentials, no one would be shocked if he can quickly regain his elite form.

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