World Championships Preview — Men’s Distance Freestyle: Bobby Finke Matches Up With Tough Europeans (Predictions)

Bobby Finke -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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World Championships Preview — Men’s Distance Freestyle: Bobby Finke Matches Up With Tough Europeans (Predictions)

In three of four distance freestyle finals between the Tokyo Olympics and last year’s World Championships, Bobby Finke has pulled off dramatic comeback wins to claim gold, denying more-heralded European rivals Florian WellbrockMykhailo Romanchuk and Gregorio Paltrinieri. The first win, in the inaugural Olympic final of the 800 free, was simply stunning as Finke made up a deficit of one-and-a-half seconds heading into the last lap, and since then, all of his rivals have learned to watch for Finke’s closing burst, knowing the advantage they must build up to hold him off.

After Finke victories in the 1500 free at the Olympics and the 800 free at Worlds, Paltrinieri snapped the streak in the 1500 final last year by building a huge lead and daring the field to chase him. That worked out as the Italian swam the second-fastest time ever on the way to gold. Now, with the world’s top distance swimmers set to gather in Fukuoka, a new crop of contenders are working their way into the mix in an attempt to upset the status quo at major meets.

Previous Events:

Men’s 800 Freestyle
WR 7:32.12 Zhang Lin CHN Rome (ITA) July 29, 2009
CR 7:32.12 Zhang Lin CHN Rome (ITA) July 29, 2009
WJR 7:43.37 Lorenzo Galossi ITA Rome (ITA) Aug. 13, 2022
Men’s 1500 Freestyle
WR 14:31.02 Sun Yang CHN London (GBR) Aug. 4, 2012
CR 14:32.80 Gregorio Paltrinieri ITA Budapest (HUN) June 25, 2022
WJR 14:46.09 Franko Grgic CRO Budapest (HUN) Aug. 25, 2019


Guilherme Costa (BRA): Costa won bronze in the 400 free at last year’s Worlds and was a finalist in the 800 and 1500-meter races. Not a likely medalist but a potential spoiler. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Fei Liwei (CHN): The top Chinese threat in the race, Fei swam a time of 14:46.59 in the 1500 free at Chinese Nationals in May. Contending in: 1500 free

Bobby Finke (USA): Even if Finke does not enter with the top times, it’s impossible to count him out given his ability to step up when facing tough competition. And he already owns the top time in the world in the 800 free with his 7:40.34 from U.S. Nationals. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Ahmed Hafnaoui (TUN): The 400 free Olympic champion is a wildcard this year, but he has shown solid distance skills in the past. The 400 and 800 are his better events, but he was the Short Course Worlds silver medalist in the 1500 free in 2021. Contending in: 800 free

Daniel Jervis (GBR): Jervis was a finalist in the 1500 free at Worlds last year and just missed the 800 free final, but he swam strong times (7:47.81/14:45.95) at British Nationals earlier this year. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Damien Joly (FRA): Joly is 31 years old, but he won his first international medals last year, winning bronze in the 1500 free at the European Championships and silver in the event at the Short Course World Championships. Also was a finalist in both long races at long course Worlds. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Lukas Martens (GER): Martens was the Worlds silver medalist in the 400 free last year, and at the European Championships, he won 400 free gold and 800 free silver. While the 400 free is his best event, there is definite medal potential in the longer events, with times of 7:42.14 and 14:40.85 already this year. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA): What are we going to see from the 28-year-old Paltrinieri in Fukuoka? If he can match his near-record speed from last year’s 1500 free final, he probably wins gold, but he has not been the most consistent. Only days before that 1500, he placed a disappointing fourth in the 800 free. In his career, Paltrinieri has won five individual world titles, including three in the 1500 free (2015, 2017 and 2022), the 2019 gold in the 800 free and the 10-kilometer open water swim last year. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR): Here’s another swimmer always right there in the big races. He swam his best time in the 1500 free (14:36.10) in winning last year’s European title, and he has captured an individual medal at the last three World Championships (plus two at the Olympics). Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Sam Short (AUS): A new player on the international scene, Short won the 1500 free and took second in the 400 free at the Commonwealth Games last year. He is probably better in the 400 (currently ranked No. 1 in the world), but he swam strong performances in both races at last month’s Australian Trials (7:40.39/14:46.67). Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Florian Wellbrock (GER): Wellbrock was the 2019 world champion in the 1500 free, and he won silver (800 free) and bronze (1500 free) medals in the pool last year along with three open water medals. He stormed to a 1500 free time of 14:34.89 earlier this year, which ranks him fourth all-time. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Dan Wiffen (IRL): A fast riser on the global stage, Wiffen was eighth in the 800 free and ninth in the 1500 free at last year’s Worlds before earning 1500 free silver at the Commonwealth Games, but he blasted a time of 14:34.91 in the mile earlier this year, ranking him fifth all-time heading into Worlds. An unexpected entry into the medal hunt, Wiffen will certainly earn hardware if he can replicate that time in Fukuoka. Contending in: 800 free & 1500 free

Elijah Winnington (AUS): Winnington is the reigning world champion in the 400 free, but he deserves a mention in the 800 free as well after he finished second to Short at Australian Trials in 7:45.75. Contending in: 800 free


Men’s 800 Freestyle:

Gold: Bobby Finke (USA)
Silver: Florian Wellbrock (GER)
Bronze: Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA)

A hunch says that Finke finds a way to get the job done once again with a stellar final 50 comeback. Short, Martens and Romanchuk nearly get onto the podium here but finish just behind.

Men’s 1500 Freestyle:

Gold: Florian Wellbrock (GER)
Silver: Bobby Finke (USA)
Bronze: Dan Wiffen (IRL)

Anyone’s guess how this one plays out, and we won’t be surprised if Paltrinieri repeats his strategy last year and blasts the field from the beginning.

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