Nic Fink Excelling Beyond Imagination in Final Stretch of Career

nic fink
Nic Fink -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Nic Fink Excelling Beyond Imagination in Final Stretch of Career

Two-and-a-half years ago, the United States men had a breaststroke problem. At the Tokyo Olympics, Michael Andrew had fallen to fourth in the 100 breaststroke final while Andrew Wilson tied for sixth. The other three-quarters of the men’s 400 medley relay was no problem, with Ryan Murphy leading off while Caeleb Dressel and Zach Apple had the back half, but who was the right choice for breaststroke?

Late in the meet, with the Americans having won only a single relay gold all meet, Nic Fink emerged as an option. Fink, a consistent member of U.S. World Championships teams since 2013, had never before qualified for an Olympics, and after he looked to be in position to qualify in the 100 breast in 2021, he swam slower in the final to finish third in an extremely tight finish. But then he rebounded to win the 200 breast at Olympic Trials, and he earned a solid fifth-place finish in Tokyo. At age 28, adding a medley relay performance and a good chance for an Olympic medal might be a perfect swansong.

Instead, the Americans stuck with Andrew, and he delivered on the way to relay gold in world-record time. But since then, Fink has experienced a stunning second act. Seemingly on the backslope of his career having won zero medals at global-level competitions, Fink has now captured an incredible 23 medals between three editions of the long course World Championships plus two Short Course World Championships. He has taken over as the undisputed lead breaststroker on the U.S. men’s 400 medley relay while winning six individual gold medals, four short course plus two long course.

And remember, this was never the plan. After Tokyo, Fink left Athens, Ga., his home and training base for a decade, to move to Atlanta in pursuit of a masters degree in electrical and computer engineering. He and his fiancée, 2016 Olympian Melanie Margalis, would continue to swim but with the intent to gradually transition out of the sport. That happened for Margalis, who last competed at the 2022 U.S. International Team Trials, but not Fink.

Nicolo Martinenghi, Nic Fink and Adam Peaty after the World Championships final of the men’s 100 breaststroke — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

His priority was his graduate degree, but Fink kept improving. Focusing on speed and technique instead of the aerobic work that had been central for a decade at the University of Georgia, Fink excelled. Long considered better in the 200-meter distance, he instead began finding more success in the 50 and 100-meter events. “I think that will never stop surprising me,” Fink said early last year of his transition to sprinting. “I was the type of 200 guy who would take his 100 out in the same time as the 50 flat-start. It’s kind of bizarre to think that I’m at this level of swimming in the 50.”

His list of accolades since making that switch are astounding, highlighted by long course world titles in the 50 breast in 2022 and another in the 100 breast this week in Doha, with Fink out-pacing longtime rivals Nicolo MartinenghiAdam Peaty and Arno Kamminga. Sure, Chinese star Qin Haiyang was absent, but otherwise, the 100 breast was as stacked as any at this oddly-timed World Championships.

Two more medal chances remain, with Fink racing Friday in the 200 breast final before he swims the breaststroke leg of the U.S. men’s 400 medley relay, likely alongside Hunter ArmstrongShaine Casas and Matt King, to conclude the meet.

Fink’s success in Doha has been a validation of his latest move, leaving the Peach State entirely to head to Dallas. After Margalis stopped competing, she joined the Georgia Tech coaching staff as an assistant, and after one year there, she moved on to work with the Southern Methodist University women’s team. With the couple now married, Fink followed his wife and began training with the SMU men’s team under head coach Greg Rhodenbaugh.

The change in training has not curtailed Fink’s momentum.

During his initial wave of success after the Olympics, Fink assumed that his career in engineering would take priority over elite swimming at some point prior to 2024. But after he became the country’s top sprint breaststroker in 2022, Fink figured, “How can I possibly stop now?” One year further down the line, the 30-year-old has begun the Olympic year in perfect fashion.

One final goal remains, an Olympic medal, and Fink will head into this summer’s Olympic Trials as the American favorite in the 100 breast. Secure that win, and he books a spot on a men’s medley relay that is a near-lock for the podium and a serious gold-medal contender. The Americans will face challengers this year, most notably China, but they have never lost the relay at an Olympics. Additionally, his win this week in Doha makes Fink a significant individual medal threat for Paris.

Not bad for a swimmer who thought his 2021 Olympic debut was the pinnacle of his career. This final chapter, which he once described as “icing on the cake,” has been one even Fink could never have expected.

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