Phelps hails Tunisian teen Hafnaoui’s 400m free upset victory

Hafnaoui's 400m free win a highlight, along with Ohashi's dethroning of Hosszu

Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui was so shocked to see his name in the gold medal position for the 400m freestyle yesterday that he did not believe his eyes.

Letting out a scream after realising that he had won, the 18-year-old pumped his fist and pointed at the electronic score board in ecstasy.

Hafnaoui, who finished in 3min 43.36sec, just ahead of Australia's Jack McLoughlin (3:43.52) and US swimmer Kieran Smith (3:43.94), said he was surprised to even be in the final, where he swam in the outside lane after being the slowest in qualifying.

"I just can't believe it. It's a dream and it became true. It was great. It was my best race ever," he said, heaping praise on his coaches.

"I dedicate (the gold) to all my family, my mum, my dad, my sisters, I wish they are proud of me."

His gold medal is only the fifth won by a Tunisian athlete at the Olympics, but their third in swimming.

The teen had capitalised on the absence of defending champion Mack Horton, who failed to qualify, and China's Sun Yang, the 2012 London champion who is serving a doping ban.

Swim legend Michael Phelps lavished praise on Hafnaoui, telling reporters in Tokyo: "Unbelievable swim, I think he knocked almost five seconds off his PB (personal best)."

Hafnaoui powered home over the last 50m, touching the wall more than two seconds quicker than the 3:45.68 he swam in qualifying on Saturday.

Hafnaoui will race in the 800m freestyle tomorrow.

Bronze medallist Smith said he knew nothing about the Tunisian coming into the race.


"He's the Olympic champion in the 400 metre freestyle. That's all I know about him," said the American. "I'm very proud of him."

Phelps believes that the playing field has been levelled, saying: "The difference between these Olympics and the past, in my opinion, is that every single person in the final has a chance of winning gold - it doesn't matter if you are in lane one, eight or four, everyone is close."

There were also significant moments elsewhere as Japan's Yui Ohashi dethroned Hungarian 400m medley queen Katinka Hosszu, while Australia won the 4x100m women's freestyle relay for the third time in a row, beating their own world record.

Veteran Hosszu, 32, won three golds and a silver at Rio in 2016, shattering the 400m medley world mark to cement her place as one of the world's top swimmers.

But she qualified only seventh-fastest for the final at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre and finished fifth.

Ohashi turned in a sizzling breaststroke leg to take charge, touching in 4min 32.08sec. US pair Emma Weyant (4:32.76) and Hali Flickinger (4:34.90) won silver and bronze respectively.

Starring in Australia's 4x100m women's freestyle relay victory were sisters Bronte and Cate Campbell, Meg Harris and Emma McKeon. They took 0.36sec off their previous best set in April 2018 to lower the world record to 3:29.69.

Canada took silver, 3:09 seconds behind, while the US clinched bronze. - AFP, REUTERS