Florian Wellbrock Out-Swims Romanchuk and Paltrinieri in Extraordinary 1500 Free Battle

Florian Wellbrock (R) of Germany celebrates after winning in the men's 1500m Freestyle Final while third placed Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy looks on during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 28 July 2019.
Florian Wellbrock after winning the 1500 free world title -- Photo Courtesy: Patrick Kraemer

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World Swimming Championships Florian Wellbrock

Gwangju 2019

Day Eight Finals

Men’s 1500 Free

For 1400 meters, the top three seeds in an all-European 1500 free final swam neck and neck, rarely separated by more than a couple tenths. That trio included Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk in lane three, Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri in lane four and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock in lane five. Paltrinieri actually had the lead for the majority of the race, but numerous attempts to break ahead fell short. That left the door of opportunity ajar, and with 100 meters to go, Wellbrock swam through it.

Wellbrock finished in 14:36.54, about a second ahead of Romanchuk (14:37.63). Paltrinieri, the two-time defending World Champion and Olympic gold medalist, settled for bronze in 14:38.75.

The trio posted 50-meter splits between 29.2 and 29.4 for lap after lap in the middle of the race, and all three flipped within 0.17 of each other with 100 to go. That’s when Wellbrock made his move, and Romanchuk and Paltrinieri didn’t have the next gear to go with the 21-year-old German.

Paltrinieri’s won his first gold medal in the 1500 free at the Kazan 2015 championships and Budapest 2017, with Olympic gold in Rio in between. Paltrinieri’s Kazan victory came after two-time defending champion and world record-holder Sun Yang did not show up for the race under mysterious circumstances. No matter—he took the event and ran with it.

Paltrinieri dealt with some rare struggles in 2018, losing his bid for a fourth-straight European title in his signature 1500 free, as Wellbrock and Romanchuk swam into the 14:36-range, leaving Paltrinieri six seconds in the dust. As it turns out, the same two men dethroned Paltrinieri on the world stage in Gwangju, and the order of finish was identical: Wellbrock, Romanchuk and then Paltrinieri.

Previously, Romanchuk earned silver behind Paltrinieri at the 2017 World Championships, giving the Italian veteran a real challenge as he finished just over a second behind. Wellbrock, meanwhile, had never made a major final previously, finishing 17th in Budapest and 32nd at the Olympics one year prior and then 17th in the 800 free earlier in the week. But Wellbrock already had a gold medal in his pocket from his trip to Korea as he took gold in the open water 10k last week, securing his spot in that event for next year’s Olympics.

None of the top three swam their lifetime bests, as Paltrinieri ranks as the second-fastest swimmer in history (ahead of even great Australian Grant Hackett) at 14:34.04, while Wellbrock (14:36.15) and Romanchuk (14:36.88) both swam slightly faster at last year’s European Championships.

The battle for the medals really only involved three swimmers, who separated quickly from the other five in the field, even if they could not separate from each other. France’s David Aubry was the best of the rest in 14:44.72, and Norway’s Henrik Christiansen took fifth in 14:35.35. Earlier in the week, when Paltrinieri won gold in the 800 free to cement his status as 1500 favorite, Christiansen took silver and Aubry bronze.

No American qualified for the championship final, which came as a surprise after Jordan Wilimovsky finished fourth at the 2016 Olympics and ranks No. 14 all-time in the event. He and Zane Grothe finished 1-2 in the event at the Pan Pacs last summer, with both swimming well under 14:50. That leaves distance swimming as one of the U.S. team’s biggest holes heading into next summer’s Olympic Games.


  1. Florian Wellbrock (GER), 14:36.54
  2. Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR), 14:37.63
  3. Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA), 14:38.75
  4. David Aubry (FRA), 14:44.72
  5. Henrik Christiansen (NOR), 14:45.35
  6. Domenico Acerenza (ITA), 14:52.05
  7. Sergii Frylov (UKR), 15:01.04
  8. Alexander Norgaard (DEN), 15:20.47

Read more about the FINA World Swimming Championships.

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Bruce Genge
4 years ago

Great race!

Rich Davis
4 years ago

Best 1500 race since the 1976 Olympics where 2 seconds covered Brian Goodell, Bobby Hackett and Steve Holland.

John Magalhaes
4 years ago

Amazing contrast of swimming styles

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