On Republic Day, the eighteen-year-old Ayoub El Hefnawi gave Tunisia the first gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, when he was crowned Sunday in the 400m freestyle, achieving a huge surprise, following in the footsteps of his compatriot Osama Mellouli.
El Hefnawy set a track of his own, after he excelled in the French championships at distances of 400 m and 800 m freestyle, and in Tokyo, he scored 3:43.36 minutes, achieving the third-best time this year, ahead of Australian Jack McLaughlin by 0.16 seconds and young American Kieran Smith by 0.58 seconds.
Al-Hefnawi’s name was often associated with the name of Mellouli (37 years), known for his brilliance in several races. He was crowned in the 1500m race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 10km marathon in London in 2012. He was also one of the world champions in the 400 and 800m freestyle races.
While controversy arose over Mellouli’s recent statements about the inadmissibility of comparing him to El Hefnawy, the veteran swimmer said in an interview with “IFM” radio this month, “No athlete should be compared to another. Even my comparison with (American legend Michael) Phelps is not permissible. Every athlete has his advantages. “.
But Mellouli, who is participating in the current session in the Open Water Marathon, praised El-Hefnawi’s talent, saying that he will be his successor, “who is going through a distinguished career, happy to pass the torch to him… Ayoub went through difficult circumstances because he had to abandon his studies in order to achieve achievements in swimming. It was a risk for his future. I hope. To find a psychological and financial balance.
Regarding his emulation of Mellouli, also participating in Tokyo, El Hefnawy says, “Osama is a legend. I hope to become like him.”
This is the fifth gold for Tunisia in its history after the coronation of runner Mohamed Qamoudi in the 5000 m in 1968, Mellouli twice in 2008 and 2012, and the runner Habiba Laghribi in the 3000 m steeplechase in London 2012
Al-Hefnawi, who is affiliated with the Tunisian Esperance Club, began his career with the world of swimming at the age of six, thanks to his father, “My father was an athlete, a basketball player, and directed me to go swimming because it is beneficial in terms of health and builds your body well.”
He continued, “I used to live quietly and with time I gained confidence. In the last two years, I started to win Arab and African titles and became a champion in France.”
Regarding his competitions outside his country, he added, “It is my right as a foreigner to participate in the French Championship, and my goal was to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. At first, they looked at me in a superior way, so I demonstrated to them my abilities after that.”
The Tunisian Swimming Federation indicated at the end of last year that El Hefnaoui was studying at the French Sports Institute Pierre de Coubertin and was training in Tunisia under the supervision of coaches Sami Ashour and Gebran El Taweli.
Responsibilities began to grow, “with achievements starting from the age of 16, but the year 2020 was very bad, I did not participate in any competition in nine months” due to the Coronavirus.
From the first moment in the race, missing the American champion Mac Horton and the Chinese champion, Sun Yang, the 2012 champion, who was suspended due to doping issues, El Hefnawy remained among the leaders and was the first to arrive.
“I can’t believe it, that’s great,” he said after his coronation. “This morning I felt better than yesterday. I’m an Olympic champion now.”
The young man, born on December 4, 2002, finished eighth in the semi-finals, “I put my head in the water and this happened. I can’t believe it, this is a dream that has come true.”
Hafa added, “I was running with the swimmers in the first 200m, in the second 200m I pushed. I gave everything in the last 50m.”
And whether he is able to compete in the 800m race, he added, “God willing. I will do what I have to do and the rest is up to my Lord.”
This is Tunisia’s second medal in these games after Mohamed Khalil Jendoubi won a silver in the 58-kg weight category in taekwondo on Saturday. Hefnaoui commented, “Khalil and I are about the same age. Tunisia depends on us. We, the new generation, offer this medal to Tunisia, my family, and the Arabs.”
The Turkish city of Antalya was the last preparatory stop for Al-Hafnawi before his first participation in the Olympic Games, in which he hopes to achieve a second surprise in the 800m race.