Olympics: Tunisian Tiger’s Tokyo Dream: Ahmed Hafnaoui’s Wild Celebration After Winning Shock Gold From Lane Eight

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) celebrates after winning the men's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network - Olympics
ROAR GOLD: The Tunisian tiger Ahmed Hafnaoui roars with delight after winning his country's third Olympic swimming gold. Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro -- USA Today Sports

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Olympics: Tunisian Tiger’s Tokyo Dream: Ahmed Hafnaoui’s Wild Celebration After Winning Shock Gold From Lane Eight

Tunisian teenager Ahmed Hafnaoui has caused the first major upset of the Tokyo 2020 Games – winning an extraordinary Olympic gold in the 400 metres freestyle from lane eight.

The 18-year-old, swimming in his first major international long course competition, only just scraped into the final but produced the swim of his life at the Tokyo Olympic Aquatic Centre.

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) celebrates after winning the men's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network

I’M THE OLYMPIC CHAMPION: Ahmed Hafnaoui in disbelief after winning the Olympic 400m freestyle gold.  Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher — USA Today Sports.

It was a special Olympic performance made in heaven – a second coming for Tunisia – following in the footsteps of his idol and Tokyo team mate – the great 2008 and 2012 Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli – who won the first of his Olympic golds in Beijing in the 1500m freestyle.

Hafnaoui grabbed his gold by just 0.16secs in 3:43.36 from Australia’s Jack McLoughlin (3:43.52) with the USA’s Kieran Smith taking bronze in 3:43.94.

And it’s a pool of dreams for Hafnaoui, dreams that can be won and lost in milliseconds – the Tunisian making the final by just 0.14seconds and winning it by 0.16 – in a personal best of over two seconds – pointing to his coach and his followers in the grandstand.

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN) celebrates after winning the men's 400m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Network - Olympics

SHOUT OUT: Ahmed Hafnaoui looks at the scoreboard and can’s believe his eyes. Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro — USA Today Sports.

It was an Olympic moment to behold, only Tunisia’s second gold medal in the pool and third in swimming and joins the country’s legendary six-time Olympian Mellouli who beat Australia’s Grant Hackett to win that memorable gold in the 1500m in Beijing in 2008 – and added his second over 10km in London – putting Tunisian swimming on the Olympic map.

And Hafnaoui of course also beating an Australian in McLoughlin, who led the race from lane two through 200m until the final turn.

Hafnaoui in lane eight and McLoughlin in lane two, swimming stroke for stroke, but six lanes apart, so rare to see major events contested in an Olympic Games from opposite sides of the pool and not from the centre lanes – but these are no ordinary times, and these are turning out to be no ordinary Games.

Hafnaoui told NBC: “I just can’t believe it, it’s amazing…I felt better in the water this morning (than) yesterday and that’s it – I’m Olympic champion now!”

He later added his reaction to winning the gold, saying: “”I just can’t accept that – it is too incredible.”

And on whether he is inspired by three-time Olympic medallist Mellouli?….Hafnaoui replied: “Oussama is a legend. I wish I could become like him.”

And on his coach cheering for him in the stands: “He is so supportive. I have two coaches, they have worked (so) hard.”

And there was not only an immediate flash back to Beijing and the final session of the 2008 Games when Mellouli caused a major upset – beating Hackett – and stopping the Aussie’s crack at a three-peat but also to 1996 when another Australian Kieren Perkins defended his 1500m freestyle gold – swimming from lane eight.

Hafnaoui wasted no time in launching his celebrations, jumping on the lane rope and thrusting his arms in the air – what a moment for a youngster who has written his way into the Olympic annals- not only Tunisia’s second gold but also it’s fourth in swimming, with Mellouli (who will swim the 10km here), winning gold in the 10km in London in 2012 and bronze in the 1500m.

McLoughlin said he normally wears glasses so he was pretty far out of it. When I saw what I came in the heats I was, like, this is perfect, because that was going to be my race plan.

“I knew those boys had real big back ends (latter part of the race) so I was trying to get out in front and just say, ‘chase me’ and it almost paid off.”

“I couldn’t really see all the way over (to lane eight). I could see some splashes and I could see the middle of the pool moving at me (during) the last 100m, but I was just trying to hold on.

“I didn’t really breathe the last 10m and I was kind of sinking at the end, so got there in the end.”

“I knew I’d be up there. I just knew they were coming at me, so I was just hoping I could put my hand on the wall.

“I am super stoked for second, a little annoyed I didn’t get the win.”

Hafnaoui started to make his mark on the pool in 2018 – at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires – finishing 7th in the 800m and 8th in the 400m after standing out at the African Championships winning two bronze medals over 800 and 1500m.

Wrapping up his year at the World Short Course Championships in Hangzhou, where he contested the heats of the 400m and 1500m freestyle

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