Long shot wins gold, and was just as shocked as everyone else

TOKYO — The teenager who pulled the most stunning upset of the first night of Olympic swimming finals couldn't even believe the outcome himself.

Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui ripped off his swim cap, pumped both fists, and screamed in utter shock. He hopped on the lane line, splashed the water with his hand and bellowed after out-touching Australia’s Jack McLoughlin at the wall to win the men’s 400 freestyle on Sunday.

Later, with an innocent, overwhelmed smile stuck to his face, Hafnaoui hardly knew where or how to hold his gold medal.

Swimming from lane eight, the little-known Hafnaoui, 18, led for most of the race and held off McLoughlin by less than two tenths of a second. American Kieran Smith claimed bronze in 3:43.94, nearly six tenths of a second behind Hafnaoui.

"Of course I was surprised with myself," Hafnaoui told reporters afterward. "It's unbelievable."

If Hafnaoui’s exuberant reaction made it seem like he hadn’t enjoyed a victory like this before, well, it’s because he hadn’t. The teenager was ranked 100th in the world in the 400 freestyle as recently as 2019. He had the 16th best time entering the Olympics and had to lower his personal-best time by nearly a half second in the prelims just to be the last man to qualify for Sunday’s final.

With the slowest lifetime best of all eight swimmers in the final, Hafnaoui seemed to be an afterthought coming into the race. He instead dueled it out with McLoughlin for much of the race before making history at the wall. 

Hafnaoui is just the second Tunisia swimmer ever to qualify for an Olympic final. The only other from the North African nation with a population of 12 million is the legendary Ous Mellouli, a three-time Olympic medalist and gold medalist in the 2008 1500 freestyle event.

"I have a great relationship with him" Hafnaoui said of his Tunisian predecessor.

Hafnaoui has been swimming since age 6 when his dad put him in a swimming club. Before his life-altering night at the Olympics, he planned to attend a U.S. college next year. 

"Which school?" a reporter asked. 

"I don't know yet," Hafnaoui responded. 

After a stunning performance on the world's biggest stage, it's safe to say he'll have no shortage of options. 

Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui celebrates winning gold in the Men's 400m Freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on the second day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Sunday July 25, 2021. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)
Tunisia's Ahmed Hafnaoui celebrates winning gold in the Men's 400m Freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on the second day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Japan. Picture date: Sunday July 25, 2021. (Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)
Best of Tokyo Day 2 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo Day 2 slideshow embed

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