Ahmed Hafnaoui’s Olympic Gold Gave Hope to a Reeling Tunisia

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When the swimmers took to the blocks in the final of the men’s 400m Freestyle, the spotlight was placed on the two fastest qualifiers- Austria’s Felix Auboeck and Germany’s Bennet Henning Muhlleitner. No attention was given to Tunisia’s Ahmed Hafnaoui in lane 8.

But lane 8 would soon capture the attention of all.

Hafnaoui was seeded last. His qualifying time of 3:45.68 was two seconds slower than Muhlleitner’s. In sports, two seconds can feel like a lifetime. So to his competitors, the media and those watching around the world, Ahmed Hafnaoui was an afterthought. He would be a footnote in the race, so the storylines were devoid of his name.

Yet Hafnaoui’s storyline was perhaps the most significant one.

Tunisia has been devastated by Covid. Suffering one of the worst outbreaks on the continent, other nations rushed to help the stricken North African country. Earlier in the month, Saudi Arabia rushed 1 million vaccine doses to Tunisia, adding to the 800,000 combined doses previously sent by the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Turkey.

Unfortunately, Covid wasn’t the only ailment plaguing the reeling country.

There was civil and economic unrest as well. Corruption, rising youth unemployment, mounting debt, and a crumbling economy all contributed to the country’s rising woes. When Covid hit, tourism was decimated. This further impacted the country’s fragile social fabric.

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