Bobby Finke & Closing Speed: How His Last-Lap Split From 1500 Freestyle Measures Up To Various World Records

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Robert Finke (USA) celebrates with his gold medal during the medals ceremony for the men's 800m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Finke & Closing Speed: How His Last-Lap Split Measures Up To Various World Records

With the World Championships set to begin in a few weeks, American distance ace Bobby Finke will try to replicate his Olympic titles in the 800-meter freestyle and 1500 freestyle. Both of those races featured spectacular finishes from Finke, who flashed unmatchable closing speed.

The way Bobby Finke closed out his races at the Olympic Games in Tokyo belied the fact that he was contesting distance-freestyle events. While Finke, a standout at the University of Florida, has been known as a strong finisher and tabbed as the next American distance star, what he managed at the end of the 800-meter freestyle and 1500 freestyle was eye-popping.

As Finke capped a come-from-behind triumph in the 800 freestyle (7:41.87) at the Tokyo Games, he closed the race with a 26.39 split over the final 50 meters. On the last day of the Olympics, Finke collected his second gold medal when he reeled in the opposition in the 1500 freestyle. In that event, which Finke calls his “baby,” the 21-year-old ripped a last-lap split of 25.78 on the way to a winning mark of 14:39.65.

Finke produced a tactical masterpiece in the final of the 1500 freestyle, staying with Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock until it was time for the American to unleash his unmatched speed down the stretch. Going forward, the opposition will have to adopt a different strategy if Finke is to be beaten, namely gaining early separation.

So, just how impressive was Finke’s last lap of the 1500 freestyle? Consider the following last-lap splits from the following world records. More, consider the context of these world records, as several were established at the height of the super-suit era, when technology outweighed pure talent.

200 Freestyle: Paul Biedermann (1:42.00)
Closing 50 Meters: 25.70

paul-biedermann-arena-signing (1)

Photo Courtesy: arena

At the 2009 World Championships, where polyurethane ruled and led to 40-plus world records, Paul Biedermann clocked 1:42-flat in the 200 freestyle. That time has not been sniffed, and is unlikely to be challenged for a long time. On the last 50 of that swim, and with the aid of a suit that was soon outlawed, Biedermann split 25.70, just .08 faster than Finke.

400 Freestyle: Paul Biedermann (3:40.07)
Closing 50 Meters: 25.77

This race marked the erasure of Ian Thorpe’s iconic world record of 3:40.08, and again was achieved at the much-maligned World Champs of 2009. This time, Germany’s Paul Biedermann covered the last lap of his race in 25.77, which is just .01 quicker than what Finke delivered on the 30th lap of his 1500.

800 Freestyle: Zhang Lin (7:32.12)
Closing 50 Meters: 25.99

Given that it is the equivalent of back-to-back 3:46.06 400 freestyles, the world record of China’s Zhang Lin in the 800 freestyle can be argued as the most untouchable mark on the men’s world-record list. Again, this global standard was registered at the 2009 World Championships in Rome and was technology-assisted. Zhang checked in with a last-lap split of 25.99, which Finke bettered by .21.

1500 Freestyle: Sun Yang (14:31.02)
Closing 50 Meters: 25.68


Sun Yang – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

In claiming the Olympic title in the 1500 freestyle at the 2012 Games in London, Sun Yang set a world record that remains on the books. The Chinese star, who is serving a four-year ban for a doping-protocol violation, covered the last 50 meters of his swim in 25.68, which is .10 faster than Finke. That finish by Sun certainly deserves consideration for the finest closing effort in history.

200 Individual Medley: Ryan Lochte (1:54.00)
Closing 50 Meters: 27.49

Obviously, the comparison here is significantly different, since Ryan Lochte raced butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke before shifting to the freestyle leg. Different muscle groups were activated in this world-record performance, which was done at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai. More, Lochte didn’t benefit from a flip turn. Still, Finke’s last 50 meters of freestyle was 1.71 seconds faster.

400 Individual Medley: Michael Phelps (4:03.84)
Closing 50 Meters: 27.85

Once again, there is a need to take this comparison with the caveat that Michael Phelps covered the first 300 meters via butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke. In producing this world record, which has not been challenged since it was written at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Phelps split 27.85 for the last 50 meters, Finke going 2.07 seconds faster.

When Finke powered home over the last 50 meters in 25.78 and won his second Olympic title of the Tokyo Games, mouths were agape. The context provided here adds to the ridiculous nature of the American’s effort, and the greatness that was produced at the end of a grueling 30-lap venture.

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1 year ago

With Lochte’s split, his last 50 was starting from when his hands touched the wall doing breaststroke. Everyone else was off a flip turn.

Ron Goh
1 year ago
Reply to  JBS

So was Phelp’s split.

1 year ago
Reply to  Ron Goh

No, Phelps was swimming 400 IM, not 200. So his last 50 started with a flip turn.

Michael Gorvitz
1 year ago

Why wouldn’t Finke consider competing in 400m? He has both speed and endurance, and the field is weak.

1 year ago

He placed fourth in the 400 IM at trials, which is the same day as the 400 free. In retrospect, it might have made more sense to swim the 400 free then IM although two gold medals is a pretty good result.

tea rex
1 year ago

Short course is a different beast, but compare him to UF teammate Kieran Smith. Finke is untouchable at 1650y, but loses by 4 seconds at 500y. I mean, maybe he’d do better at 400m if he could race 1100 IMMEDIATELY before getting on the blocks. Not entirely joking about that either.

1 year ago

It’s the same day as 400 IM. He has said they planned to have him swim whichever of the two seemed more “on” and he’d had a great year or so of 400 IM training and racing.

1 year ago

With that speed he should definitely be in the 400 and the 200 free’s. That would also put him squarely on the 4×200 relay consideration list. He could do what Yang did, and add a winning relay to boot..But first they have to put Caleb on, biggest mistake of the games…

Evy T
1 year ago

Good point. However take into consideration that Lochte, knowing that his underwear dolphin kick on the back was probably at that point in his career (2011) the fastest in the world, and faster that his front side dolphin kick, was well known to use that tactical advantage in pushing off that last wall from the breast to free leg in a back underwater dolphin kick for a good 10 meters..

1 year ago

What was Rowdy Gaines last 50 split in the 100 in 84 Games ?

Rob C
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

Rowdy was out in 24.01