World Championships, Night 4: Ahmed Hafnaoui Gets Revenge in ‘Insane’ 800 Free

Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia competes in rde Men's Freestyle 400m Heats during rde 20rd World Aquatics Championships at rde Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 23rd, 2023.
Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Editorial content for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships is sponsored by FINIS, a longtime partner of Swimming World and leading innovator of suits, goggles and equipment.


World Championships, Night 4: Ahmed Hafnaoui Gets Revenge in ‘Insane’ 800 Free

Ahmed Hafnaoui was not pleased by gracious on Monday night after being touched out in the men’s 400 freestyle by Sam Short.

Living well proved the best revenge.

The Tunisian surged over the final 50 meters in a tremendous race Wednesday night at the Marine Messe Hall in Fukuoka to win in 7:37.00 in one of the best races of the meet.

Short finished second in 7:37.76, an Oceania record. Bobby Finke rallied, as is his wont, but only for bronze in 7:38.67, lowering his American record. Daniel Wiffen of Ireland went 7:39.19 to finish off the podium in fourth.

“The silver in the 400, I think that’s part of this win,” Hafnaoui said. “We were focusing the last day on just going as hard as I can on the last 50. In the prelims, I went like 26.5 in the last 50 and now I went 26.2. It was pretty close to each other.”

The 800 free has become an event of global depth. Not only that, it’s one that is replenishing itself with new talent.

So fast was prelims that several big names missed out on the final eight – among them, Budapest silver medalist and double Fukuoka open water gold medalist Florian Wellbrock. All three Tokyo medalists are accounted for – in order, Finke, Gregorio Paltrinieri and Mykhailo Romanchuk. They joined Wellbrock in the top four in Budapest last year, with Guilherme Costa fifth and Wiffen eighth.

That group has pushed each other to their best. Last year’s Worlds final included an American record for Finke (7:39.36) and national records for Wellbrock and Romanchuk to reach the podium, plus a South American record for Costa in fifth. By comparison, it took only 7:41.87, then an American record, for Finke to win gold in Tokyo. That time would’ve been a distant sixth Wednesday night.

It’s why the likes of Finke, Short and Wiffen, though not winners on the night, couldn’t be angry about the results.

“This race has become quite insane the past couple of years,” Finke said. “… This race has gotten incredibly deep, and I think that’s good for the sport. You can’t just have one country or a couple of countries dominating everything and you can’t say the sport is growing. If there’s people from all these other countries like David Popovici in Romania and Ahmed Hafnaoui from Tunisia, that’s incredible to have as a growing sport.”

“I’m stoked,” Short said. “It’s what I’ve grown up to be. I don’t mind coming second, third or even worse as long as I’m in the race and really push everyone and get some good times. I’m loving every bit of it.”

Even Wiffen, who could be plenty aggrieved at his European record not finishing on the podium, can’t take too much umbrage at lopping five seconds off his personal best this week.

“I’m obviously happy,” Wiffen said. “The 800 isn’t my strongest this season, which I’m surprised at because I took five seconds off my PB. Great swim, unlucky to get fourth but coming away with a time like that, I can’t really complain.”

Short led the way in preliminaries with a time of 7:40.90, ahead of Hafnaoui, whom he touched out in the 400 free earlier in the week. The top four in that event – Short, Hafnaoui, Lukas Martens and Costa – all made the 800 free final.

Martens was with the leading pack early but fell off just enough for Finke to get him. The German finished fifth in 7:39.48. Romanchuk was never a factor in sixth in 7:43.09. Costa and Paltrinieri rounded out the podium.

Ahmed Hafnaoui is among those who are excited to see where this event can go in the next year ahead of the Paris Games.

“I’m so happy to jump a lot in my time,” he said. “… Bobby, he was one of the guys that pushed me to do that time.”


Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
10 months ago

A Ayoub has such a beautiful stroke… it’s more than mere pleasure to watch this humble giant do his thing. What a last 100 in the 8…whew. MY breath was gone! I was whistling and yelling like a fool as he ramped it. His last turn was utter goldsville.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x