Tokyo Flashback: Bobby Finke Does it Again to Claim Distance Double

Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Robert Finke (USA) with his gold medal during the medals ceremony for the men's 1500m freestyle during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Bobby Finke; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

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Tokyo Flashback: Bobby Finke Does it Again to Claim Distance Double

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

No one saw it coming when Bobby Finke went from fourth to first in the final 100 meters of the men’s 800 freestyle. This time, the anticipation grew the longer the American stayed in touch with the lead pack. And when he made his move, no one else had a chance.

Finke split a 25.78 off the final 50 of the men’s 1,500 freestyle to claim gold and the distance double, culminating one of the best and most unexpected stories from the men’s side of the American draw. He claimed gold in 14:39.65.

Aug 1, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Robert Finke (USA) competes in the men's 1500m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Finke, bottom, surges past Mykhailo Romanchuk of Romania in teh final 50 of the 1,500 free; Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

“I saw all three of us were kind of neck and neck,” Finke said. “I knew from my 800 I had the ability to switch gears for the final 50. So I was trying to keep it clean as possible in the last 300 to hold on and just build off it at the end.”

The selection came around the 600-meter mark, with the top four from the 800 free again separating themselves. Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri, the reigning gold medalist and only holdover finalist from the Rio Olympics, took the edge through the first 300. He would fade to fourth. Florian Wellbrock took the baton at the 400 mark, with Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk in tow. Finke, as is becoming his style, hung around with the group, keeping it long and clean and lurking for his chance.

As he did in the 800, he turned it on for the bell lap. He split a ludicrous 25.78 on the final leg to win. That was a full second faster than Romanchuk and nearly two seconds faster than Wellbrock in 27.76. Finke was faster coming home in the 1,500 than he was even in the 800, when he split 26.39 off the end.

Romanchuk surged past Wellbrock, who led for more than 1,000 meters, into another medal, this time silver. Paltrinieri landed off the medal stand by four seconds.

Finke swam so fast he even surprised himself.

“For myself, I didn’t know I had these swims in me,” Finke said. “So I’ve just gained a lot of confidence with Coach (Anthony) Nesty being here. Even during the training trip, I was having some of the best practices of my life, so it gave me a huge confidence boost coming here.”

“I don’t think we necessarily saw the performance in the 800 going the way that it went, but we certainly saw it coming in the mile,” men’s head coach Dave Durden said, calling Nesty, who is Finke’s coach at the University of Florida and a U.S. assistant, the staff MVP. “I think everybody in the building knew what was coming down that last 100 of the mile.”

Bobby Finke’s win is the first in the event for an American man since Mike O’Brien and George DiCarlo went 1-2 in the 1984 Olympics. There have been minor medals in that time, but the 37-year barren stretch is easily the longest on the men’s side.

Finke’s turned in a top-10 performance. His time makes him one of the top 10 performers all-time. He is just .17 off the American record set by Connor Jaeger.

Finke was aware that it had been a long time since the last American win, which was enough to stoke his desire. Durden, with the longer view, had an even deeper appreciation.

“It was something I was aware of,” Finke said. “Going into Trials I didn’t really now how long it was, but we’ve got a lot of silver medals and bronze medals, so I’m glad to be able to pull it off with gold.”

“Hell yeah, absolutely that is a tremendous amount of pride that we have,” Durden said. “Not only in winning the 800 but coming back and winning the mile. We’re trying to keep up with the Katie Ledeckys of the world, so it’s nice to have Bobby Finke step up and do that in the 800 and the mile.”

Finke’s late speed is no longer going to catch his rivals by surprise after this Games. Already, the punch that the American packs for the final 50 is starting to wear on opposition.

“His last 50 is much faster than my 50 so I tried to hold the speed at a high level especially in the first five meters,” Wellbrock said. “But it didn’t work and he did a really good job on the last meters.”

“I don’t like the guys when the athlete is so fast,” Romanchuk said. “But he is the Olympic champion and the fastest now in the world.”

Olympics: Mykhailo Romanchuk, Bobby Finke Set the Pace in 1,500 Free

Men’s 1,500 Freestyle

  • World Record: Sun Yang, China, 14:31.02 (2012)
  • Olympic Record: Sun Yang, China, 14:31.02 (2012)
  1. Bobby Finke, United States, 14:39.65
  2. Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine, 14:40.66
  3. Florian Wellbrock, Germany, 14:40.91
  4. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy, 13:45.01
  5. Daniel Jervis, Great Britain, 14:55.48
  6. Kirill Martynychev, Russia, 14:55.85
  7. Felix Aubock, Austria, 15:03.47
  8. Serhii Frolov, Ukraine, 15:04.26
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Peter Coultas
Peter Coultas
2 years ago

A real slow down this time.but anything under 15 minutes is pretty impressive.

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