U.S. Olympic Trials: Bobby Finke Owns 1500 Freestyle, Caps Florida Sweep; Brinegar Clips “A” Cut for Second

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Olympic Trials: Bobby Finke Dominates 1500 Free, Completes Florida Freestyle Sweep; Brinegar Clips “A” Cut for Second Place

Bobby Finke has spent several years rising up the ranks in American distance swimming. He qualified for his first World Championships team as a 16-year-old in 2019, and during his collegiate career in Florida, he crushed the American record in the 1650-yard freestyle, where he has swum six seconds faster than any other swimmer. Now, Finke is an Olympian and clearly the strongest distance swimmer in the country. Finke qualified for the team Thursday night with a tight win in the 800 free, and his second victory in the men’s 1500 free was an absolute runaway.

Early on in the race, 19-year-old Will Gallant went out quickly and held a slight lead over Finke in the early part of the race, but Finke pulled away around the 500-meter mark and then opened up a massive lead, which stretched to almost 25 meters with 300 to go. Finke put up a time of 14:46.06, crushing his lifetime best by 2.5 seconds and becoming the fifth-fastest American ever in the event, trailing only Connor JaegerJordan Wilimovsky, Larsen Jensen and Peter Vanderkaay.

Finke ended up with the third-fastest time in the world in the event, trailing only the three men who swept the podium at the 2019 World Championships: Germany’s Florian Wellbrock (14:36.45), Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk (14:39.89) and Italy’s defending Olympic gold medalist Gregorio Paltrinieri (14:40.38). After the race, Finke recognized the challenge he will face as he seeks to challenge that trio for a spot on the podium in Tokyo.

“I hope I can compete with them,” Finke said. The time means a lot. I’ve been waiting to drop in that race for a couple years now. I’m just honored to go to Tokyo and try to improve my time.”

If Finke is to challenge for a medal in Tokyo, he would be bucking recent history since no American man qualified for the 1500 final at either of the last two World Championships. American record-holder Jaeger was the last swimmer to excel in this event internationally — he won silver medals behind Paltrinieri at both the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Olympics — but before that, no American won a 1500 free medal at either the 2008 or 2012 Olympics. With much tougher competition awaiting Finke in Tokyo, we’ll see if he can step up and contend with the likes of the impressive European distance group.

Finke’s win completed a sweep in the freestyle events for Florida swimmers. Caeleb Dressel took first place in the 50 and 100 free (as well as the 100 fly, and he is favored for Olympic gold in all three), Kieran Smith beat the field in the 200 and 400 free, and Finke won the 800 free in addition to this 1500. Although Dressel trains in the pro group with former Gators head coach Gregg Troy while Smith and Finke each train with the college team under Anthony Nesty and Steve Jungbluth, all three men have won NCAA titles for the Gators and represent Gator Swim Club in competitions like Olympic Trials.

The only competition with any real drama about outcome was the race for second place. Gallant held that spot for a while, but a little after the halfway point, 800 free runner-up Michael Brinegar and open water Olympic qualifier and Rio 1500 fourth-place finisher Jordan Wilimovsky each overtook Gallant. But Brinegar gradually pulled away from Wilimovsky and earned his spot alongside Finke in a second event for Tokyo. Brinegar touched in 15:00.87, moving to 10th-fastest in the world in the event. which was barely enough to eclipse the FINA “A” cut of 15:00.99 in the event.

If Brinegar had not achieved that mark, the Americans would have just been allowed one swimmer in the event for the Olympics, just as was the case in the 400 free before runner-up Jake Mitchell beat the time in a time trial a few days after the 400 final.

It was good getting second but I’m a little upset about the time,” Brinegar said. “I feel like I should be way faster than that, especially after my 800 earlier. So I’m just fired up to get back training for Tokyo.”

Brinegar also reflected on having his breakthrough meet during the pressured environment of the Olympic Trials. “It’s been really crazy,” he said. “It’s been really entertaining to watch. It’s been super stressful getting ready for my races, getting myself mentally prepared and physically prepared for all my races, it’s been the most pressure-filled meet I’ve ever been at. I’ve just enjoyed it though. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Wilomovsky finished third in 15:05.29, more than 20 seconds off his best time, so he will focus on aiming for a medal in the open water 10k race in Tokyo. Arik Katz took fourth in 15:11.34, followed by Charlie Clark (15:14.11), and Gallant faded to sixth (15:17.34). David Johnston (15:18.21) and Brennan Gravely (15:25.26) also competed in the final.

Results

  1. Bobby Finke 14:46.06
  2. Michael Brineger 15:00.87
  3. Jordan Wilimovsky 15:05.29
  4. Arik Katz 15:11.34
  5. Charlie Clark 15:14.11
  6. Will Gallant 15:17.34
  7. David Johnston 15:18.21
  8. Brennan Gravely 15:25.26

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