18-year-old Tunisian athlete Ahmed Hafnaoui picked up a gold medal during the men's 400m freestyle final

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Ahmed Hafnaoui of Team Tunisia celebrates after winning the gold medal in the Men's 400m Freestyle Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Ahmed Hafnaoui
| Credit: Al Bello/Getty

Even Ahmed Hafnaoui couldn't believe his big finish!

The 18-year-old Tunisian athlete picked up a gold medal during the 400m freestyle swimming event Sunday morning, even though he had the slowest qualifying time.

After realizing he had the fastest time in the tight race — which saw him narrowly beat out Australia's Jack McLoughlin and Team USA's Kieran Smith — Hafnaoui pumped his fists in the air in celebration. 

Hafnaoui's final time was 3:43.36, while McLoughlin, who won silver, had a final time of 3:43.52 and McLoughlin got bronze with 3:43.94.

"I'm feeling proud. I'm so happy to win the gold medal,"  he told reporters after his big win. "Of course I was surprised with myself. It's unbelievable."

Hafnaoui added that receiving his medal was a very emotional experience.

"I was in tears, I was in tears in my eyes because when I see the flag of my country and I hear the anthem in the background, it was great," he said. "I'm so proud of it."

Silver medalist Jack McLoughlin of Team Australia, gold medalist Ahmed Hafnaoui of Team Tunisia and bronze medalist Kieran Smith of Team United States pose on the podium after competing in the Men's 400m Freestyle Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Ahmed Hafnaoui
| Credit: Clive Rose/Getty

The swimmer, who plans on going to college in the United States next year, said he was inspired by the victory of fellow Tunisian swimmer Oussama Mellouli, who won gold in 2008 and 2012. 

"Oussama is a legend," he said. "I wish I could become like him."

While the other swimmers didn't see Hafnaoui's win coming, silver medalist McLoughlin took his loss in stride.

"It's the Olympic Games. You see all these results of people predicting who is going to win, who is going to come second and everything, but it's the Olympic Games and anything can happen," he told reporters.  

"The best people are the ones who can come up and swim their best times at the Olympic Games," he added.

To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.