Wiffen Grabs Gold No2 For Ireland In Roaring 14:34 Rite Of Passage To Paris Showstopper

2024-02-18 No comments Reading Time: 7 minutes
Dan Wiffen - No1
Dan Wiffen - No1 - image courtesy of World Aquatics

Daniel Wiffen, of Ireland, arrived in Doha for the anomalous World Championships of avoidable circumstance already a podium prospect for the Paris Olympic Games and today he leaves Qatar a double-distance global long-course champion in a club with Grant Hackett, the disgraced Sun Yang* and Ahmed Hafnaoui as the only men to have completed the 800-1500m double at the aquatics showcase.

Ireland’s most successful swimmer in the history of the global showcase roared to a 14:34.07sec triumph, the time the fifth fastest ever.

It was old No2 for Wiffen, the 22-year-old having made history in the 800m earlier in the meet by taking his nation’s first global long-course title and medal of any colour. 

Former World champion and Olympic marathon champion Florian Wellbrock took silver 10.54secs adrift in 14:44.61, his peak-form focus trained on Paris, where the home crowd’s heart will be with David Aubry, the Frenchman a touch behind the German for bronze in 14:44.85 this day.

Wiffen’s latest in a string of national records follows a World record inside Hackett’s 800m short-course high last December and makes the Irishman the fifth fastest all-time over 30 laps of the pool. 

In the ranks of Europeans, he’s second-swiftest ever, behind Italian 2016 Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri, continental record holder in 14:32.80.

Sarah Sjostrom, courtesy of Arena

The last session in Doha also produced world-title No 4 for Sarah Sjöström in the 50m freestyle (23.69, just 0.08 outside her world record and the joint fourth-fastest time in history, Sjöström the owner of them all) after six in a row on butterfly, and world-title No 3 for Ruta Meilutyte in the 50m breaststroke, her 29.40 the third-fastest time of her career and the joint fifth on the all-time performances list.

The curtain-closer also saw Lewis Clareburt and Freya Colbert take the 400m medley crowns and Isaac Cooper the 50m backstroke title before the closing medley relays went to Australia’s women and China’s men.

The bulk of championship wins, podiums and the pace of finals over eight days made Doha a unique back-to-the-future meet in which global standards of around 20 years ago were back in medal-winning vogue. The cheering for many a “first-ever” for nations and individuals is understandable. Caveat emptor, however, when it comes to contextual consequence that stretches to what the lexicon of the age calls “mental health”. 

More on the art of weathering in our analysis of the championships to come.

There were, of course, those whose trajectories swam them round the shredding of the swimming history and the clear risk of Doha having set some swimmers up for a fall, Sjöström and Meilutyte obvious cases in point.

Team Wiffen

Dan Wiffen
Dan Wiffen – the countdown includes two world titles. Image courtesy of World Aquatics

Wiffen had already confirmed himself a Paris contender who faces the ultimate challenge knowing he’s in with a very big shout and that a medal of any colour will be a towering achievement for any who make it to the ceremony and cause for pride among any others who get close enough to play a part in what promises to be one of the most thrilling Olympic distance-free fights in history.

Wiffen is surrounded by an entourage of coaches and sports scientists like Andi Manley and Mike Peyrebrune at Loughborough, and will head to France in July with the Team Ireland performance entourage led by Jon Rudd, foundations built under his feet by the likes of his development coach Martin J McGann, and a following wind of love-you-whatever-happens backing of his parents, twin brother, Loughborough and Ireland teammates, sponsors like FINIS and others who have supported him along the way. 

Here’s a glimpse of attention to detail:

Wiffen will head to France knowing that Doha was his Olympic trials and a building block to bigger battles, including one with the German ace and Olympic bronze medallist of Tokyo 2020ne 10 seconds behind him this day but, all being well with the health of both, will rejoin a fight with other relying on all being well with their health and qualification processes. 

There’s Olympic 800-1500m defender of crowns Bobby Finke, Olympic 400m champion and 800-1500 double world champion of 2023 Hafnaoui, Paltrinieri and today’s fifth man home, Olympic 800 and 1500 medallist Mykhailo Romanchuk – and that’s just counting the proven.

Wiffen spent part of the race inside Sun’s world-record pace before finding the Chinese controversy’s finishing speed a touch too hot. 

Named male athlete of the championships as the show came to a close, Wiffen said he felt “amazing” but his long view was on Paris, sibling support and seeing the sun go down on a 14:31.02 record ripe for the taking. Said Wiffen:

“It’s one of my goals to try and beat the world record at some point. It’s a bit funny to say that too as I’ve got at least another eight years. Doha has been going great for me and I’m looking forward to the Olympics as I’ve already qualified. I’m more looking forward to my twin brother (Nathan Wiffen), I want him to go to the Olympics. I feel like if he is there, it is going to be more like home and it’s going to be easier for me. I will just try and give my best while swimming as I swim.”

Dan Wiffen – courtesy of sponsor FINIS

The first Irish swimmer ever to win a medal, first to win gold, first to win two golds: Wiffen writes new lines in the book of history with every passing race and stroke, it seems. Paris will be trickier on some measures: how does one compete with the astonishing rise of Michelle Smith* to triple gold followed by the fall of a suspension from the sport for breaking anti-doping rules, a penalty from which she never came back. 

The medals were never given back either and sports governors, the rule-setters, the lawyers, those who find reasons to be lenient to offenders, continue to side with those whose dubious ‘achievements’ mask the true worth of their contemporary opponents and even generations of athletes who follow.

Wiffen and Ireland will know where his trailblazing fits in the lore and legacy of Irish sports legends and their achievements.

Championship finals – Doha, Day 8

Results in full – all events – at Omega

Men’s 50m backstroke

Isaac Cooper
Isaac Cooper, courtesy of World Aquatics

On the ropes twice in a dash to gold, Australian Isaac Cooper took the title in 24.13. Hunter Armstrong, the defending champion from the USA, took silver in 24.33, Poland’s Ksawery Masiuk the bronze in 24.44.

Speaking through Swimming Australia, Cooper said: “I told my coach I would love a go at going under 24 tonight but I whacked my finger a couple of times … the roof is curved … so it was a bit of a mind game to swim straight. I am really proud of that swim … I have no idea what I am capable of but I think it’s up to the individual to test it.

“This event isn’t on the Olympic program so my goal is to now focus on 100 back – and the 50m free. And now I know my front-end speed is there, I have to hold my speed and learn how to turn around and come back. But my focus is the 50m free.

“I would love to one day become the fastest man in the world. Whether it happens this year or in 10 years. But I also know my country needs me for the backstroke, in the relays, so I’m training for that as well.”

Women’s 50m breaststroke

Ruta Meilutyte
Ruta Meilutyte in 2017 not long before she walked away from the sport (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

Ruta Meilutyte made in three World titles in three years when she added Doha to her 50m wins at Budapest 2022 and Fukuoka 2023. What would have taken 12 years to achieve back in the history of the World Championships and five years during the past two decades after the global showcase moved from being staged once every four to every two years, has taken just three years this cycle because of Covid catch-up contracts.

Meilutyte**, of Lithuania, did not race the Olympic 100m in Doha but will be acutely aware of the growing danger of the latest 100m champion to take her two-lap crown: China’s Tang Qiantiang was not in Fukuoka but added dash silver to her 100m gold in Doha in an Asian record of 29.51. Bronze went to former world record holder Benedetta Pilato of Italy in 30.01.

Meilutyte dedicated her medal to her grandmother, the woman who raised her after the death of the swimmer’s mother when Ruta was very young. “My grandmother admired my medals and this medal is going to be a gift for her,” said the three-times dash champion.

Men’s 1500m freestyle

Dan Wiffen stole the limelight on the last day of action with a 14:34.07 victory in the 1500m free to collect a second gold for Ireland to add to his 800m triumph.

Women’s 50m freestyle

Sjöström was a class part but the podium was a speedy affair, all inside 24sec, the versatile Kate Douglass the silver medallist in an Americas record of 23.91 for the USA with medley gold, breaststroke silver and now freestyle dash honours in the vault, and the bronze medallist Katarzyna Wasick, whose 23.95 set a Polish record.

“I’m very, very proud to win this medal,” said Sjöström. “It was a lot of pressure. It gives me the confidence coming up to Paris that I can handle all kinds of pressure.”

She rounded off her meet with silver in the 4x100m medley with mates: the World record holder in the 100m butterfly bypassed that event ion Doha but reminded rivals of her her-present danger with a 56.11 split in the relay.

Men’s 400m medley

Lewis Clareburt added to New Zealand’s celebrations of “fist-ever” moments in Doha with a 4:09.72 victory ahead of Great Britain’s Max Litchfield, 4:10.40. Daiya Seto, Japan’s World 400IM champion of 2013, 2015 and 2019 back on the podium for a record sixth time, after bronzes in 2017 and 2023, round off the the podium in 4:12.51 ahead of one of those heading to Paris, all being well at Olympic trials, as a title contender, the favourite Léon Marchand, absent from Doha.

Women’s 400m medley

Freya Colbert, courtesy of British Swimming

Freya Colbert doubled the gold count for Great Britain’s women in Doha when she passed Anastasia Gorbenko, of Israel, and Sara Franceschi, of Italy, down the last length of a close battle. The fight ended in that order 4:37.14, 4:37.36, 4:37.86.

Gorbenko endured booing from the crowd during announcements in which her name and country were mentioned, and during the medals ceremony, according to widespread reports. Shame on everyone involved.

Colbert’s teammate Laura Stephens won the 200m butterfly title last Friday.

Speaking through British Swimming, Colbert said: “It’s so amazing, I’m still in a bit of disbelief. I knew I could do it, that was probably one of the first races that I’ve gone into at this level with total confidence in myself and my race plan. I just trusted that plan, not following the girls out on the butterfly, keeping true to what I know my strengths are and it really paid off at the end. I am so pleased!

“I felt strong coming off the backstroke leg, knowing I’d gone past Anastasia, but to be honest, she was the only person I could see, I didn’t even know what Sara [bronze medallist Sara Franceschi] was doing on the other side of the pool.

“I got a little bit stressed on the breaststroke because I thought I’d got in front, but then she came back again, and then I just had to give the freestyle my all. I know it’s one of my strengths individually, it’s not necessarily always a strength at the end of the IM – I just had to really trust what my coach Dave Hemmings had told me during all those weeks at altitude, throw my head down and give it everything to the wall.” 

Men’s 4x100m medley

Women’s 4x100m medley

  • – * – the swimmers both fell foul of anti-doping rules and were suspended from swimming as a result
  • – * – swimmer retired from racing but her paperwork was not filed to the global regulator and as a result she missed three out-of-competition anti-doping tests, resulting in her serving a penalty before she made her comeback to the sport

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