Tokyo Flashback: Bobby Finke Unleashes Massive Final 50 to Collect 800 Freestyle Gold

Jul 29, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Robert Finke (USA) celebrates after winning in the men's 800m freestyle final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports
Bobby Finke; Photo Courtesy USA Today Sports

Tokyo Flashback: Bobby Finke Unleashes Massive Final 50 to Collect 800 Freestyle Gold

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.

Bobby Finke took a look up, 760 meters into the race, and knew it was now or never. Whatever was left in the 21-year-old Floridian’s legs, he was going to have to wring out if he had a chance to get in the medal picture in the men’s 800 freestyle.

He knew the leader he needed to chase, knew the chaser he needed to keep in his grasp. And then Finke went out and uncorked a final 50 for the ages.

Finke split a 26.39 on his final 50 meters, clawing back from fourth to first to win the first every Olympic gold medal in the men’s 800 freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics.

“I noticed with 10 meters off the wall that I was catching up a little ground,” Finke said. “That was the only motivation I needed to try to pass them and get my hand to the wall.”

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; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Finke’s time was 7:41.87. It was shy of the inaugural Olympic record set by Mykhailo Romanchuk in the prelims Tuesday night. But for the second straight day, he set an American record. He lowered the existing 7:43 from Michael McBroom to 7:42.72 in prelims. Considering he was 7:48.22 at Olympic Trials, it’s a tremendous drop.

Gregorio Paltrinieri set the early pace and barely hung on for silver in 7:42.11. Finke was aware of the Italian’s presence in lane 7. Considering that Paltrinieri is arguably faster over 1,500 meters, the field didn’t panic when he attacked early. Even with a bout of mononucleosis last month, the Italian had the staying power later.

Off the final wall, Romanchuk appeared to surge from Lane 4, opening a slight gap on Florian Wellbrock to his right. But it was to his left that Finke was shot out of a cannon, overtaking both of the Europeans to his right, then chasing down Paltrinieri by three tenths.

The top seed from prelims, Romanchuk grabbed bronze in 7:42.33, just the third Olympic men’s swimming medal for Ukraine and first since 2004 (Andriy Serdinov).

Much has been made of the Tokyo Olympics adding the 1,500 freestyle to the women’s program for the first time at the Tokyo Olympics, rectifying a long-overdue and outdated imbalance. The counterweight is the addition of the 800 free, normally only contested in World Championships, so the men’s side of the docket. The novelty informs the slew of national records in prelims. And for a men’s distance freestyle field that currently lacks a presiding power, it adds another medal to tussle for.

Two of the medalists from the last Worlds, silver medalist Henrik Christiansen of Norway and David Aubry of France, didn’t even make the final. Paltrinieri barely slid in with an outside lane. Romanchuk was eighth in the 800 free at Worlds in 2019, adding a silver medal behind Wellbrock in the 1,500 free with Paltrinieri in third.

Finke, the new face on the block, sprung into that vacuum Thursday. It required digging deep into his reserves and feeling the pain. But he got a gold medal for his willingness to do so.

“Just trying to spin my arms honestly and do the best I could,” Finke said. “… It’s a lot (of pain), but it kind of goes away once you start. Your mind just kind of disappears and you’re just blocking it out.”

Men’s 800 Freestyle

  • World Record: Zhang Lin, China, 7:32.12 (2009)
  • Olympic Record: Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine, 7:41.28 (2021)
  1. Bobby Finke, United States, 7:41.87
  2. Gregorio Paltrinieri, Italy, 7:42.11
  3. Mykhailo Romanchuk, Ukraine, 7:42.33
  4. Florian Wellbrock, Germany, 7:42.68
  5. Jack McLoughlin, Australia, 7:45.00
  6. Serhii Frolov, Ukraine, 7:45.11
  7. Felix Aubock, Austria, 7:49.14
  8. Guilherme Costa, Brazil, 7:53.13
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