Olympics: Oussama Mellouli Sets His Sights On Seventh Olympics At Paris 2024

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Oussama Mellouli (TUN) competes in the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
Oussama Mellouli: Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

Oussama Mellouli became only the fourth swimmer to compete at six Olympic Games when he dived off the pontoon at Odaiba Marine Park on Thursday and then set his sights on Paris 2024 when he will be 40.

The Tunisian made his Olympic debut at Sydney 2000 and has now competed at five subsequent editions to join Therese Alshammar and Lars Frolander – both of Sweden – and Derya Buyukuncu of Turkey in an exclusive club.

The 37-year-old won gold in the 1500 free at Beijing 2008 followed four years later by bronze in the longest event in the pool as well as the open water title at London 2012.

He was 20th at Odaiba Marine Park on Thursday almost eight minutes behind winner Florian Wellbrock who delivered a masterclass in open water swimming.

Mellouli almost didn’t make it to Tokyo at all because of an ongoing dispute with the Tunisian Swimming Federation which saw him announce his retirement last month.

Days later, however, he confirmed he would race in Japan after Tunisian Olympic Committee president Mehrez Boussain pledged to mediate between Mellouli and the federation.

Mellouli though said the dispute had affected his training and subsequent performance, saying:

“I think I could have done a better job. Considering the last five weeks since Setubal (the FINA qualifying race), I’m a bit disappointed about (not being) a bit more in the fight.

“I think I wasn’t in the race for the first three loops and then I was below average in the last four loops.

“I think the poor situation that I’ve been in after my qualifier, I think a lot of extra stuff that’s been happening in my preparation didn’t get me in top form and top condition.

“After the qualifier I was hoping the situation could have been better so I could be in a better condition.”

It seems that Mellouli doesn’t want to end his career on such a note and when asked if he intended to compete in France, Mellouli said:

“I honestly hope so. I think I have more to prove.”

Should he do so, the eight-time world medallist would become the first swimmer to compete in seven Olympics after Alshammar attempted to qualify for the Sweden team in the women’s 4×100 free this year although her bid came to an end at the Sette Colli meet in June.

Thursday’s race saw Wellbrock win by more than 25 seconds ahead of Kristof Rasovszky and European champion Gregorio Paltrinieri and add to his bronze in the 1500m freestyle.

The German now holds the Olympic and world titles and Mellouli said:

“He did an amazing job, congratulations to the German team.

“Florian is a superstar. He has shown tremendous skills in the pool and today dominated the 10k so congrats.”

The first morning of swimming finals at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre featured Mellouli’s fellow Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui who won the 400 free from lane eight, prompting an outburst of emotion and unconfined joy.

Hafnaoui described Mellouli as a “legend” and said he aspired to be like him, a legacy of the older man’s success in the pool since he claimed his first global medal with 400IM bronze at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona.

“I hope so,” said Mellouli.

“I’m very proud of him, words can’t describe how proud I am of him. I know the 400 freestyle is a very tough event, I think my best finish was fifth.

“He is a mature athlete at a young age.”

He added:

“That was great for Tunisian swimming, for Arab swimming, for north African swimming.

“I’m very proud of the kid. He shook the world and did an amazing job, an inspirational job.”

 


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