Bobby Finke mounts late charge to win first men's Olympic 800 free

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jul 28, 2021

American men's swimming has a new distance star.

Bobby Finke came out of absolutely nowhere to win the first-ever men's 800m freestyle on Thursday in Tokyo, overtaking the field in the final 50.The lone American in the race won the event's Olympic debut in 7:41.87, a new American record, becoming the first U.S. man to win a distance freestyle event at the Olympics since 1984. He was 7:42.72 in prelims.

At the 750-meter mark, he was not in the picture for a medal, let alone gold. But a monumental final length of the pool saw him surge past Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA), Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) and Florian Wellbrock (GER) to be first to the wall. Finke split 26.39 on the final length, the only man in the field to even crack 28. 

"I just really wanted to get my hand on the wall," Finke told NBC's Michele Tafoya. "I was able to switch into another gear."

Paltrinieri, the 2016 Olympic champion in the 1500, got out to a massive early lead, leading Finke by over two seconds at the 300-meter mark. That gap was down to just over a second at the 500, and under a second at the 600, but then back at nearly 1.5 seconds at the 700 — but it wouldn't prove enough to hold off Finke. 

American Connor Jaeger took silver in the 1500 in 2016, but before that, it was 2004 when a U.S. man last won a medal in a distance event at the Olympics. After Jaeger's retirement, the U.S. men were shut out of medals in the 800 and 1500 at both the 2017 and 2019 World Aquatics Championships. 

Jordan Wilimosky, the dual-threat open water and pool swimming Olympian, finished fourth in the 1500 in 2016; he missed out on the 1500 this year but is swimming the 10K. Finke and Michael Brinegar are set to represent the U.S. in the 1500 later this week.