World Championships: Gregorio Paltrinieri Pulls Off Outside-Smoke Stunner in 1500 Free Final; Finke Takes Down American Record for Silver

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Gregorio Paltrinieri -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Gregorio Paltrinieri Pulls Off Outside-Smoke Stunner in 1500 Free Final; Finke Takes Down American Record for Silver

Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri was the world’s dominant swimmer in the 1500 freestyle from 2015 through 2017, when he earned two world titles and an Olympic gold medal for his ledger. But a pair of European rivals, Germany’s Florian Wellbrock and Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk, caught up in 2018 and 2019, and at the Tokyo Olympics, Paltrinieri missed the podium in the 1500-meter event after he had dealt with mononucleosis just one month before. In Budapest, he was not expected to be in the hunt for gold in the event, particularly after he placed fourth in the 800 free, and then Paltrinieri barely snuck into the final with a seventh-place mark of 14:54.56.

In the final, the 27-year-old was swimming in lane one, but he had the lead at the 100-meter mark and then began building a lead over the pre-race favorites in the center lanes, a group that included Wellbrock, Romanchuk and the American who won Olympic gold last year, Bobby Finke. Paltrinieri moved under world-record pace and began building a lead over the superimposed red line representing Sun Yang’s pace from his 2012 world-best performance. Given his recent form, it seemed likely that Paltrinieri would soon fall off the pace and the field would catch up, but that never happened.

Instead, the lead grew to six seconds by the later stages of the race, and with 400 meters to go, it was clear that Paltrinieri would not be denied his the third world title of his career in this event. The question was the world record, and even though Paltrinieri remained more than a second ahead of the pace with 50 meters to go, he fell off slightly. Still, he finished in 14:32.80, the second-fastest mark ever behind Sun’s 14:31.04. Paltrinieri was ranked No. 2 all-time prior to the race at 14:33.10, so he chopped three tenths off his 2020 European record.

“It was pure pain for the entire 1500,” Paltrinieri said. “I knew I was swimming very fast, but during the swim, I didn’t think I was as close to the world record. The plan was to try to win this race, not more, so I’m extremely happy with this time. I was watching my teammates in the stands during the race, and they were pushing me so hard. That meant a lot to me.”

In the battle for silver, Finke and Wellbrock went back and forth over the later stages, with Romanchuk falling off the pace. Romanchuk took over the runnerup spot at the 1000-meter mark, and he was still a half-second ahead of Finke with 50 meters to go, but Finke’s legendary finishing speed allowed the American to come over the top on the last 50 with a 26.10 split.

Finke finished in 14:36.70, knocking almost three seconds off Connor Jaeger’s American record of 14:39.48 from the 2016 Olympics (when Jaeger took second to Paltrinieri0. Finke moved to fifth all-time in this race behind Sun, Paltrinieri, Grant Hackett and Wellbrock. Meanwhile, Wellbrock finished with a bronze medal, touching in 14:36.94.

“Greg had a great race,” Finke told NBC Sports after the race. “He started from the get-go. I was never able to catch back up, but I still had a pretty good race. I dropped three seconds, so I’m happy with it.”

After winning a pair of gold medals in come-from-behind fashion in Tokyo, Finke admitted that it felt weird to arrive at a World Championships with a target on his back, but he performed extremely well with another fourth-to-first final 50 for gold in the 800 free and then a huge improvement to capture silver in the 1500 free.

“It was stressful,” Finke said. “I’ve never been in that kind of scenario before with everybody aiming at you to take the title again. Stressful, but after that 800, I gained some confidence, and I tried to move throughout the meet and do the best I could.”

Wellbrock was unable to defend his world title in the race, but the performance was less than a second off his lifetime best, and he could only marvel at his Italian rival. The two swimmers figure to face off again at the European Championships in just over a month.

“I’m surprised by the performance of Gregorio,” Wellbrock said. “Obviously, we were expecting that this would be a really fast race, but that turned out to be something else. Hats off to him for doing this after the 800. I can be happy with my bronze.”

Germany’s Lukas Martens, who was ranked No. 1 in the world entering this race, finished fourth in 14:40.98. Martens used a swift final 50 to move ahead of Romanchuk, who ended up fifth in 14:40.98.

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Alberto Carramiñana
5 months ago

Give Paltrinieri the last 100 of just about anyone else in the field and he would beat the WR.