TOKYO (AP) — With a dazzling burst of closing speed, Bobby Finke of the United States captured gold Thursday in the debut of the men’s 800-meter swimming freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri claimed the silver after leading most of the race, while the bronze went to Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine.
It was a thrilling finish. Germany’s Florian Wellbrock snatched the lead from Paltrinieri on the final flip, with Finke lurking back in fourth.
But the American turned on the speed at the end of the 16-lap race, passing all three swimmers ahead of him to take the gold.
“I had no idea I was going to do that,” Finke said. “I noticed with 10 meters off (the final turn) I was catching a little bit of ground, and that was the only motivation I needed.”
Finke’s winning time was 7 minutes, 41.87 seconds, just 0.24 ahead of Paltrinieri. Romachuk touched in 7:42.33, knocking Wellbrock back to fourth.
Finke’s victory was a big surprise for the Americans. He knocked about 6 seconds off his personal best coming into the Olympics to walk away with a historic gold.
He wasn’t thinking about the pain until he touched the wall.
“Your mind just kind of disappears and you’re blocking it out at the end,” Finke said.
The men’s 800 freestyle was added to the Olympic program for these games, marking the first time that approximate distance was contested by the men since there was an 880-yard race at the 1904 St. Louis Games.
Finke’s victory briefly pulled the U.S. ahead of Australia in the gold medal race at the Olympic pool, but Izaac Stubblety-Cook evened things up again with a victory in the 200 breaststroke.
Mirroring Finke’s finish, Stubblety-Cook rallied on the final lap to pass Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands, who went out fast and tried to hold on.
The winning time was an Olympic record of 2 minutes, 6.38 seconds, giving the team from Down Under their fifth gold of the swimming competition.
The Americans also had five and led the overall medal tally 17-10.
Kamminga was under world-record pace through the first 150 meters, but he faded to the silver in 2:07.01. The bronze went to Finland’s Matti Mattsson in 2:07.24.
American Nic Fink finished fifth.
The fifth morning of the swimming competition also featured U.S. star Caeleb Dressel going for the first individual Olympic gold medal of his career in the 100 freestyle.
Also, Katie Ledecky was swimming for another gold in the 4×200 free relay, but the Americans were expected to face a big challenge from Ariarne Titmus and the powerful Australian women’s team.