Wiffen carries Ireland’s hope of rare success in Olympic pool


Irish swimming has rarely been linked with Olympic success but distance specialist Daniel Wiffen has genuine hope of seeing the nation’s tri-colour flag hoisted above the Paris pool after his events.

The 22-year-old became Ireland’s first swimmer to claim a World Championships medal when he took the men’s 800 metres freestyle gold in Doha in February and followed that up with the 1500m title at the same meet.

He will now hope to become the second Irish swimmer to claim gold in the Olympic pool nearly 30 years after Michelle Smith took three individual titles at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Though thriving in events that require lung-busting endurance and a high pain threshold, Wiffen is a scholarly-looking iron-man, wearing big, round-framed glasses outside the pool and showing a penchant for goofy victory celebrations in it.

After claiming the 800m title in Doha, Wiffen made a phone gesture with his hand and slammed it down in the water.

He trains with his twin brother Nathan, also an elite swimmer, and both appeared as child extras in an episode of the hit series “Game of Thrones”.

The twins regularly document their training and events on a YouTube channel, mixing in pop music and candid reviews of swims that have not gone to plan.

Only Daniel will swim for Ireland at Paris but Nathan will be close at hand, likely collecting footage for a hit-generating vlog.

Wiffen heads to France with the fastest times this year in the 800m (7:40.94) and 1,500m (14:34.07).

Only a few seconds off Chinese swimmer Sun Yang’s long-standing 1,500m world record (14:31.02), he has ambitions of improving on the mark.

He already owns the 800m short course world record which he took off Australian great Grant Hackett at European championships last December.

Topping the podium in Paris will hardly be a formality, though, given the fields.

The Olympic 800m and 1,500m champion Bobby Finke will bid to repeat the double for the United States, while Australia’s Sam Short, who made the World Championship podiums of both events in Fukuoka last year, is another major threat.

Claiming victory in one or the other would be a landmark for Ireland whose greatest swimmer Smith had a complex legacy.

Though Smith never failed a drug test and her Olympic results have stood, she was given a four-year ban for tampering with a sample which effectively ended her career.

Doping suspicions have long overshadowed the Olympics, and a number of Paris-bound athletes head to the Games with concerns about the global anti-doping system following revelations 23 Chinese swimmers failed drug tests for the same substance in the leadup to the Tokyo Games but were cleared by authorities.

An independent investigation found on Tuesday that the World Anti-Doping Agency did not mishandle or show favouritism in the case of the Chinese swimmers.

Wiffen told Irish media last week his recent successes had made him “probably one of the most-tested athletes in the world”.

“I’m sure there’s doping going on in every sport, it’s not just swimming. It happens all the time in sport,” he said.

“I 100 per cent can tell you that definitely there has to be at least someone (doping) because I’m not stupid and it happens all the time.”



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