Tunisia’s Olympic gold medallist Ahmed Hafnaoui a major doubt for Paris 2024

The defending 400m freestyle swimming champion says he has been suffering with an injury

Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 400m freestyle final at the Tokyo Olympics. EPA
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Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Ayoub Hafnaoui, who surprised everyone at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and claimed a gold medal in the 400m freestyle, says he might not be fit to defend his title in Paris.

Hafnaoui, 21, is suffering from an undisclosed injury, and revealed on Wednesday that his participation at the Games this summer is in doubt.

The then 18-year-old became a national hero at the delayed Tokyo Games in 2021 when he stormed to gold despite being the slowest qualifier to start the final.

“I am currently suffering from an injury, and I do not know whether or not I will participate in the Olympics,” the Tunisian swimmer told AFP.

However, representatives of the Tunisian Olympic Committee have so far been hesitant to definitively confirm Hafnaoui’s absence.

“More than just medals, we seek above all the well-being of this young man who brought us so much joy,” Mehrez Boussayene, head of the Tunisian Committee, said. “He will have other world competitions.”

Hafnaoui had begun training in the United States in 2023, specifically in California, under the guidance of former US team head coach Mark Schubert. However, he told reporters at the Doha Swimming World Championships in February that he could not resume his training in the US after facing Visa issues, and that he had returned to his home country.

The Tunisian star had an impressive record last year, winning two gold medals in the 800m and 1500m categories at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in addition to claiming silver in the 400m freestyle.

Hafnaoui has been tipped as one of the top Arab athletes likely to claim a medal in this year’s swimming events at the Paris Olympics.

Including Hafnaoui's success, Tunisia has won a total of five gold medals at past Games.

Also in the pool, swimmer Oussama Mellouli claimed two golds – in 2008 and 2012.

On the track, 3000m steeplechase runner Habiba Ghribi also won gold at London 2012, while Tunisia’s most respected Olympic champion – the runner Mohammed Gammoudi – won gold in the 5000m at Mexico City 1968 and made history as the first Tunisian to ever win an Olympic medal.

Updated: May 08, 2024, 4:48 PM