Mission accomplished. A first ever world record for Irish swimming, and for Daniel Wiffen surely the first of the many, his level of talent and ability and sheer determination in that realm now undisputed.
At the climax of the European Short Course Championships on the outskirts of Bucharest, Wiffen won his third gold medal of the week, this one in the 800 metres freestyle, with Sunday’s performance raising his prospects to a whole new level, and well as raising the roof off the Otopeni Swimming Arena.
Already the European record holder with his previous best of 7:25.96, Wiffen improved that to a sensational 7:20.46, taking three seconds off the world record of 7:23.42 which had stood for 15 years to the Australian great Grant Hackett – the seven-time Olympic medal winner, three of them gold.
For the 22-year-old Wiffen, from the small village of Magheralin on the Armagh side of the county border with Down, it also makes clear his medal prospects for the Paris Olympics next summer. He will turn 23 the week before those Games begin, still only coming into his sporting prime.
Indeed Hackett first broke the 800m freestyle record August 2001, two weeks after Daniel was born, before improving it to 7:23.42 in 2008. Wiffen was well inside that mark on Sunday evening, suitably delighted once his time was revealed.
“It’s amazing,” Wiffen said, who also received the male swimmer of the championships award.
“I had people messaging me asking if I was going to try and break the world record, but I was trying to keep it under wraps that I was in the shape for it. I actually felt horrible during the morning so it’s great to swim that fast when I’ve been feeling that way.’
“This is the hardest ever period [of racing] as I’ve had 10 days of racing. I’ve done four 1,500′s, three 800′s and two 400′s in 10 days and to finish off with the world record just proves my fitness.”
He finished almost 10 seconds ahead of second placed David Aubry from France, second in 7:30.32, with Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk back in third.
Wiffen admitted part of his motivation came from touching home short of a first ever World Championship swimming medal for Ireland, finishing fourth after a thrilling 1,500m freestyle in Fukuoka, Japan last July, and also finishing fourth in the 800m.
“This time last year I broke the European record in the 800m and then in April I went 14:36 and then at the World champs, two fourth places and a European record long course in the 800m freestyle.
“Off the back of that I was kind of disappointed with my fourth places so coming here I was like ‘we need to step up, no more fourth places’ let’s get in the medals and we came away with three golds and a world record which is just amazing!”
Wiffen, a final year computer science student in Loughborough University, started the week by becoming the first Irish swimmer to win a gold medal at a European Short Course Championships with his victory in the 400m freestyle, setting an Irish record, before setting another personal best and Irish senior record time of 14:09.11 in the 1,500m freestyle, the third fastest time in history.
As with that 1,500m final, Wiffen again had his twin brother Nathan for company, who finished eighth in 7:39.99, his second fastest performance: “I was very tired in that final, I’m not going to lie,” he said “I’ve never done that many swims and I’m very proud that on my first ever international stage that I’ve made two finals and that was the fastest final there’s ever been, so I was so proud to make it.”
In all the Irish collected four medals, three of them gold, setting 15 Irish senior records, plus four Irish junior records. But there can only ever be one first Irish world record holder.
“A first ever world record for Irish swimming is sensational, something we all dreamt of, and Daniel has delivered that today in some style,” said John Rudd, Swim Ireland National Performance Director.
“This is an iconic moment in Irish sporting history. With a World Championships taking place in February 2024, and with it being one of our Paris Olympic qualification events giving it further status, a large proportion of our team were in full training though this competition in Romania and not rested for peak performance, making the outcomes and the number of lifetime best performances achieved across the team even more impressive.”