Tokyo Vision: Gregorio Paltrinieri And Florian Wellbrock Targeting Double-Pronged Attack In The 800 Free

gregorio paltrinieri
Gregorio Paltrinieri: Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Tokyo Vision: Gregorio Paltrinieri And Florian Wellbrock Targeting Double-Pronged Attack In The 800 Free

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not shaken the world, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would be unfolding right now, titles and podium finishes earned by the finest athletes from around the world. Instead, we are in a competition lull and hopeful that the Games will be held next summer, with COVID-19 neutralized.

As we reach the nine days over which the swimming competition of a delayed Olympiad would have taken place, Swimming World is taking a glimpse at what might have unfolded this summer, had the Olympics not been postponed. Following the official schedule, we offer our virtual fields of eight finalists for each event and take a brief look at how the racing might have panned out until a few strokes away from decision and a result that will not be known until July/August 2021.

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Event: Men’s 800m Freestyle
World Record: Zhang Lin (2009) – 7:32.12

Historical Note #1: The men’s 800 free will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The last individual men’s race to be added to the program was the 50 free at Seoul 1988 where Matt Biondi won gold ahead of fellow American Tom Jager and Gennadiy Prigoda, father of three-time world medallist Kirill Prigoda.

Historical Note #2: The event has been contested at the World Championships since 2001 and four countries – Australia, Poland, China and Italy – have stood on the top step of the podium in 10 editions. Ian Thorpe won the first world title ahead of fellow Australian great Grant Hackett and Graeme Smith of Great Britain.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • David Aubry – France
  • Henrik Christiansen – Norway
  • Gabriele Detti – Italy
  • Dan Jervis – Great Britain
  • Jack McLoughlin – Australia
  • Gregorio Paltrinieri – Italy
  • Mykhailo Romanchuk – Ukraine
  • Florian Wellbrock – Germany

The Race

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 – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

The 800 free final arrived on the morning of July 29, the first of the distance events with the 1500m to come. Gregorio Paltrinieri had set a European record of 7:39.27 after a gun-to-tape victory at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea and was the favorite.

The Italian announced in May 2020 he had split with his long-time coach Stefano Morini to join the Italian national open water squad working under the guidance of Fabrizio Antonelli. Paltrinieri though insisted that he was giving equal prominence to pool and open water.

Florian Wellbrock had not reached the final in Gwangju, the 16-length race sandwiched between the open water and the 1500 free, with the German winning gold in both. However, he wanted to attempt both pool races in Tokyo with the shorter one coming first and he had improved greatly in the time since South Korea.

Notable by his absence was Sun Yang, the three-time world champion now banned for eight years.

It was set to be a tight race with world silver and bronze medallists Henrik Christiansen and David Aubry of Norway and France, respectively, having qualified impressively and 2017 world champion Gabriele Detti also in the mix.


Henrik Christiansen, on the podium at the 2019 World Championships in Gawngju – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Six members of the field went out sub-27 on the first 50 and although Detti was ahead after 100, no-one was threatening to break away.

The Italian pair led the way at the 200m mark with Aubry third and Christiansen, Dan Jervis and Mykhailo Romanchuk toward the back of the field.

Paltrinieri had struck out on the fifth length and at halfway was some way in front with Australian Jack McLoughlin for company and Wellbrock also hovering, the German now set to benefit from his greater endurance as the race unfolded.

Christiansen, too, started to make a move and was in second with 100 to go, and remained there going into the final length with Paltrinieri and McLoughlin occupying first and third. Wellbrock, though, was coming as was Aubry and Detti was certainly not out of the equation yet.

What was going to happen in the final meters? Would Paltrinieri get gold and who else would be on the podium? Who would miss out?

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