Daniel Wiffen named Best Male Swimmer at World Aquatics Championships after second gold

Irish swimmer adds second title to 800m earlier in the week, posting two astonishing athletic performances

Ireland’s Daniel Wiffen celebrates winning a gold medal in the Men’s 1500m Freestyle Final at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships, Hamad Aquatic Center, Doha, Qatar, on Sunday. Photograph: Giorgio Scala/Inpho

Rarely if ever has there been a global coming of age like this one, Daniel Wiffen producing another absolute masterclass in freestyle swimming to win his second gold medal at the World Aquatics Championships, and then the ultimate prize of approval to go with it.

Such was the dominance and devastating margin with which Wiffen won the 1,500m freestyle, adding to his 800m gold from last Wednesday evening, that he wasn’t yet done with his crowning moments inside the Aspire Dome in Doha. At age 22, this is indeed Wiffen’s time.

Because if some of the small talk beforehand was whether Ireland could win a first ever medal at this championship level, which in its swimming carnation has been going since 1973, Wiffen has answered it with two startling performances which has now got the entire swimming world talking.

So, at the close of Sunday’s final session, Wiffen was back in the presentation area to collect the golden trophy for Best Male Swimmer, alongside Claire Curzan from the US, named Best Female Swimmer after winning six medals in all, including four gold.

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Irish swimmer Daniel Wiffen has claimed his second gold medal at the World Aquatics Championships after winning the 1,500 metre freestyle by 10 seconds.

Wiffen had unquestionably produced one of the single most impressive swims of the last eight days in the pool, turning the 1,500m final into his own 30 lengths of glory. It wasn’t quite gun to gold, with 16-year-old Kuzey Tuncelli from Turkey taking an early lead, only once Wiffen hit the front just after the 100m mark it was effectively race over.

From there, Wiffen spent much of this race chasing the world record, before finishing just three seconds outside of that, his 14:34.07 still the fastest swim of his life, and the fifth fastest in history. His stunning 10-second margin of victory was the biggest in this event since 2010.

“I think I got to 800m and was thinking, ‘I’m going to need some crowd support here’ because I was dying there in the middle,” he said. “So the support really helped me there as well. But that race was definitely better for me, a personal best, and the progression from the 400m to the 800, to the 1500m, I’m just so happy to come away with two world titles.”

Germany’s distance specialist Florian Wellbrock came through to win silver in 14:44.61, just in advance of David Aubry from France, the 27-year-old who took bronze in 14:44.85.

They could only chase in vain as Wiffen simply pulled away from his rivals with breathtaking ease, already about seven seconds clear by halfway, and then 10 seconds ahead going into the final 200m.

On his mind at that point was the $30,000 (€28,000) bonus for breaking a world record, the mark of 14:31.02 still belonging to Sun Yang since the 2012 Olympics in London. That came before the Chinese swimmer was handed an eight-year ban in 2020, for interfering with a doping sample, a sanction that was later reduced to four years and three months on appeal. Yang also finished that race with an unheard-of 53.4 last 100m.

What is certain too is he didn’t just put Irish swimming on the global map, but also his village of Magheralin, on the Armagh-Down border. Wiffen’s second gold medal win also makes clear his prospects for the Paris Olympics, now just over five months away. A student at Loughborough University, he’ll turn 23 the week before those games begin, only coming into his sporting prime.

He also admitted the race tactic was clear; get out fast and stay there.

“Yeah, 100 per cent I was talking about it before with my coach Andi [Manley], we had a little bet as well, about whether I’d set a personal best or not. But that was it, go out a bit faster than everybody else, be in my own lane, swim my own race, get out ahead, and really focus on what I wanted to do.”

On entering the arena, Wiffen made another personal gesture, this time looking closely at his wrist, as if imaging his watch was there, having made a dialled-in gesture before his 800m win.

“Nathan, my twin, he makes them up for me, we have a little brainstorm before,” he explained. “That one was just saying it’s my time, in the moment, just to keep going with that’s good. I think I did hint at a personal best, so just happy to perform.”

Irish swimmers had previously won three medals at the World Short Course (25m pool) Championships, in Shane Ryan (2018 bronze), Ellen Walshe (2021 silver) and Mona McSharry (2021 bronze), but never in the standard Olympic-sized 50m pool, and now Wiffen has two gold medals of his own.

His parents Rachel and Jonathan were in Doha to witness his historic feat, along with Nathan, also still in contention to qualify for Paris. Wiffen also pockets another $20,000 for striking a second gold, having also finished seventh in the 400m final.

Earlier, a third final of the week for Mona McSharry marked an eighth place, this time after the suitably tight margins of 50m breaststroke, a non-Olympic event.

In the event she describes herself as the “splash and dash”, McSharry was mixing it with the very best breaststroke specialists in the world, victory going to Ruta Meilutyte from Lithuania, the world record holder and defending champion, who touched home in 29.40.

Then came Tang Qianting from China, the 19-year-old winner of the 100m event, taking silver in 29.51, with world junior record holder Benadetta Pilato from Italy, also only 19, third in 30.01.

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Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics