Bobby Finke, Kieran Smith Usher in Fast Future for Florida Gators

bobby-finke
Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

With all eyes on the Texas-Cal showdown, the Florida Gators put together some of the most impressive performances of the NCAA Championships. The Gators finished third behind some stellar individual performances by Kieran Smith and Bobby Finke, and consistently fast relays.

“It was massive,” Bobby Finke said of Florida’s statement performance this week. “Our coaches wanted to make sure we would be able to swim fast throughout the meet and not just the first couple of days. I am just excited for how we are going to be able to do next year.”

All five relays finished in the top four for the Gators, which was a big factor.

“Relays were huge for us at this meet, especially compared to the past few years. Our team is pretty young and it is fun to see us develop our different gears. After SECs, I was thinking our relays were pretty much as good as they could get, but I was totally wrong. We maintained or moved up in all of them and dropped time — and we don’t lose a single senior on the relays. We return all 20 legs,” Smith said.

kieran--smith

Kieran Smith. Photo Courtesy: Luke Jamroz Photography

Finke won the 1,650 freestyle in 14:12.52, shattering the meet record by 10 seconds. It was nearly as fast as his own NCAA and American record of 14:12.08.

“This time, I actually tried to go out faster than what I did at SECs, but I went out in practically the same time but I was trying harder, so that was a little disappointing. I have swam the mile three different ways now but have gotten all 14:12s. I am trying to learn how to swim it again and train on that.”

Their previous races were pretty impressive, too.

Bobby Finke won the 400 IM and Kieran Smith followed suit in the 200 free — both in comeback fashion. Finke, a junior, won the 400 IM in 3:36.90, breaking the pool record in the event.

But it wasn’t that he won, it was how he won.

Finke trailed Texas freshman Carson Foster, well behind in fact, for the first 300. Foster turned at 2:46.12 ahead of Finke at 2:47.46. Finke has proved to be one of the top closers in the country, as this followed a similar pattern seen in the 400 IM at the 2019 summer nationals when Finke ran down Foster a year and a half ago.

Finke’s performance inspired Smith to continue the trend when his turn came up in the 200 free. Smith won in 1:30.10, but again, it wasn’t that he won, it was how he won.

Texas’ Drew Kibler took the early lead with a first-half split of 43.29. Smith was a 43.79 on the front half and stayed close throughout, closing the gap with a methodic finish and burst of speed in the final 25.

Smith split a 23.16, just a few tenths quicker than his teammate Bobby Finke earlier in the 400 IM as he won his first individual title of his career after coming last year as the top man in the 200 and 500 free before the meet was cancelled.

“For me, I just approach the race differently beforehand. Instead of telling myself I am not going to feel the pain or ignore the pain, I just accept it and know I will be in pain. I don’t want it to sneak up on me. I want to be fully aware of it and that helps me mentally prepare for it to try to do the whatever I can the last 50 to get my hand on the wall,” Finke said. “Zane Grothe said that at the end of every practice he felt like the end of every race when you are dead tired. I think our Christmas training really trained us well for that. After every practice everyone was dead. There was one practice where we did 90x100s. Half the team crawled out of practice. We just laid on the pool deck. It was a sight to see,” Finke said.

They weren’t done.

Smith followed that up with a sixth-place finish in the 100 freestyle (41.89), to go along with his 500 free runnerup finish.

“For me, this year, the only difference in my splits from last year are all on the last 50. I was 23.6 last year and 23.1 on both of those swims this year. For me, it is a combination of doing all of those yards and getting up and going fast during quality practices. I make it an important part of practice to finish stronger than when I start,” Smith said.

Now they are hoping their fast NCAAs help them finish the year stronger than when they started as they head to the Olympic Trials this summer.

“I think it is going to help us build confidence. I think our whole team is going to be closer and it is going to help us build confidence with whatever other meet we have,” Finke said.