With 1 March being the first day athletes could earn qualification marks for the Paris 2024 Olympics, the twenty-year-old from Tunisia’s 15:00.24 made him the first to better the time standard necessary to compete in the event at the upcoming Games.

Ahmed Hafnaoui burst onto the world scene at the Tokyo 2020 Games by winning Olympic gold in the 400m freestyle. That Hafnaoui did so while swimming from lane eight – which is given to the swimmer with the slowest qualifying time from the semifinals – made it even more remarkable. With swimming at the Games going back to the first modern Olympiad of Athens 1986, the then-eighteen-year-old’s performance marked only the third time in Olympic history that a swimmer won gold out of lane eight.

Image Source: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Hafnaoui’s performance in Tokyo made for Tunisia’s sole gold of the Games, though he followed in the strokes of fellow Tunisian Oussama Mellouli.  A two-time Olympic gold medallist, Mellouli first won gold in the 1500m freestyle in Beijing 2008 and then four years later placed third in the 1500m and then followed this up by winning the 10km open water swimming event during the London 2012 Games.

On the ground in Fort Lauderdale for the TYR meet, World Aquatics correspondent Gregory Eggert caught up with Hafaoui after this win in the 1500m.

Image Source: World Aquatics (Gregory Eggert)

How did you feel about your performance today, nearly taking the 2023 world best time in the 1500m (editor: Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine swam 14:59.28 on 23 January 2023)? How does this set you up for the aspirations at the Paris 2024 Games? 

I was looking to swim under 15 mins but I was so close and I was pleased with my performance today.  I hope that I can make the Olympics in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle events.

I didn’t know my time tonight (15:00.24) was faster than the Olympic qualification time standard.  While I was swimming I didn’t know what the exact qualifying time was but once I got out of the water my coach told me that I had bettered the 15:00.99 qualifying time. 

During this early season I think that people don’t go that fast at their meets so to begin a season with a time like this is very satisfying.

You’re now training, racing and studying in the United States, competing in the NCAAs. How is this going?

I am studying sports management at Indiana University.  I arrived in Bloomington, Indiana in August 2022.   I was looking forward to continuing my academic career and also my athletic career and I think I found myself in a very good environment with a team that is always pushing me to do my best work.

I train every day with Marwan El Kamash (EGY - second place finisher: 15:01.26), and he is a very good training partner. I have fun training with Marwan.