Ahmed Hafnaoui’s victory in the men’s 400m freestyle was one of the biggest shocks in the pool in the Games’ history

Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia celebrates winning the Men’s 400m Freestyle final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan [Ian MacNicol / Getty Images]

The Tokyo Olympics delivered a day of high drama on Sunday with a stunning surprise in the pool, netting Tunisia a gold medal.

Tunisia are unlikely to add to their solitary gold but no medal of the Games will be celebrated more wildly than that earned via the astounding achievement of 18-year-old Ahmed Hafnaoui, who stunned the swimming superpowers with victory from lane eight in the men’s 400m freestyle.

Hafnaoui had set a personal best to qualify for the final and then improved again by more than two seconds to beat the Australian Jack McLoughlin and American Kieran Smith into second and third place.

Hafnaoui, who became only the fourth Tunisian athlete to ever win Olympic gold, was asked about his huge improvement, saying: “I was surprised at first that I was a finalist and now I am surprised I won a gold medal. It’s unbelievable. I didn’t believe it until I touched the wall and saw my face first.”

“It’s a dream and it became true – it was my best race ever,” Hafnaoui said in an Olympic-level understatement after he held off heavily-fancied Australian Jack McLoughlin and American Kieran Smith despite qualifying slowest for the final.

Hafnaoui received the ultimate validation as American medal machine Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer in history, labelled his performance as an “unbelievable swim”. “The difference between these Olympics and the past is that every single person in the final has a chance of winning gold,” said Phelps.

*Middle East Monitor