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Daniel Wiffen: From Game of Thrones extra to centre stage for Ireland swimming 

The 21-year-old, who was an extra in the famous GoT Red Wedding scene, is now an Irish swimming star, having won silver in the 1500m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games. Olympics.com spoke to the Olympian and multiple Irish record holder about his rise to the top of the swimming world, sporting family and memories of that famous episode of one of the most talked about TV shows on the planet. 

5 min By Sean McAlister
Daniel Wiffen 
(Picture by 2022 Getty Images)

Where were you when you watched the Red Wedding?

The Game of Thrones episode became a cultural phenomenon in June 2013 as unwitting members of the series' Stark family met their untimely demise at the hands of Lord Walder Frey in an act of betrayal that sent shockwaves around the world.

For Daniel Wiffen, a swimmer from Ireland who at 21 has already represented his country at one Olympic Games and medalled at the recent Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, the answer is probably a little different to your own. He was standing on set as an extra alongside his twin brother, watching the likes of Jon Snow in one of television's most infamous episodes.

“I didn’t really know about Game of Thrones when I was younger,” Wiffen revealed to Olympics.com from his high-altitude training camp just outside Granada in Spain. “My parents wouldn’t really let me watch it, but I guess my dad watched it all the time, and then my sister got a really good role in Game of Thrones - she was one of the Frey daughters [Neyela Frey, granddaughter of Lord Walder Frey].

“So she came in and did her bit and then we came in for the Red Wedding, in the background - which was pretty cool.”

Taking the throne

Unlike Game of Thrones, where treachery against family members is the norm, Wiffen has a tight bond with his own siblings, with much of it stemming from a shared love of swimming.

Wiffen’s older brother is now a swimming coach, while his twin brother is also an elite-level swimmer who lives, studies and trains with him at England’s Loughborough University.

“I don’t really have much of a rivalry with my older brother - he quit just before I was going to beat him,” said Wiffen with a hint of playful mischief in his eyes. “But me and my twin Nathan have a big rivalry because we train together and he’s doing the same events as me, he used to do backstroke and now he does distance freestyle.”

Wiffen’s rise in the world of swimming has indeed been a dramatic one.

In 2021 he made the Irish team for Tokyo 2020. It was an achievement that he fully expected to happen, even though many people, even within Team Ireland, were unaware of the levels he was capable of at the time.

“I was in the best shape of my life and knew it would probably take a lot for me to not make the team,” he explained. “But I knew this in my head but I didn’t want to tell anyone in Ireland…

“I came to Ireland three days before the meet and asked my coach who he thought was going to make the Olympic team, and he didn’t even mention me!”

To the surprise of everyone present other than himself, Wiffen set the qualifying standard in the heats of the very first race he was involved in to become the first swimmer from Ireland to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

If people weren’t aware of his potential before that day, they certainly were now.

A historic year topped by a podium

The Olympics in Tokyo were a breakout moment for the rising star of Irish swimming. Not only did he win his heat in the 800m, he also set a new personal best as he defied expectations at his first Olympic Games.

But that was just the beginning of a 12-month period that has seen him break multiple Irish records - he now holds eight - and claim a medal at one of the most prestigious international sports events of the year.

After reaching the final of the 800m at June's World Championships in Budapest, Wiffen headed to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where he began the meet by coming agonisingly close to the podium when he finished fourth - by a whisker - in the 400m freestyle.

But the best was yet to come. Wiffen stormed home in the 1500m in a new Irish record of 14:51.79 to take home a historic silver medal.

And the people most thrilled with Wiffen’s dramatic performance that day were his family who were watching from the crowd.

“My whole family, all my friends from Loughborough and coaches who taught me from when I was younger all came to watch this 1500 final, so they all got to watch it in person, which was pretty cool.

“I think they tried to interview my parents while I was racing and my parents were like, ‘you can’t interview us while he’s racing, we’re watching the race!’”

Outside of competition, Wiffen hasn’t given up his onscreen presence just yet. He still documents his and his brother’s training and competitions on his own personal vlogs on the Wiffen Twins YouTube channel.

Now almost 10 years after his supporting role on Game of Thrones, the Irish record holder and Commonwealth Games medallist is certainly centre stage with Paris 2024 less than two years away.

And while he has no plans - or time - to get back into acting with Olympic and World medals on his bucket list, there is one role that may tempt him back to the land of television.

“If something came up that I like, for instance, if I wanted to be in the new House of Dragons, if I got offered that I’d probably make some time to get into it.”

But for now, with his sporting star firmly on the rise, the question people should be asking is this: Where were you when you watched Daniel Wiffen?

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