Bobby Finke Wins the First Men’s 800 Freestyle at the Olympics

Bobby Finke of the United States won the men’s 800-meter freestyle, the first such race in an Olympics since 1904, coming from behind in the last lap to beat Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri.

It was a surprise even to Finke. He said he had “no idea” he could win.

Finke, 21, a four-time all-American at the University of Florida, was competing in his first Olympics. His victory was the first for an American man in an Olympic distance race since 1984.

The race was expected to be a wide-open slog, with Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine a slight favorite.

Paltrinieri arrived with one of the 10 best times in history, but he had struggled in Tokyo and was relegated to an outside lane for the final. He jumped out to the early lead, and held it through 14 of the race’s 16 laps.

The pack pulled closer with each turn, and Finke surged in the final 50 meters, swimming the last leg in 26.39 seconds, 1.65 seconds faster than Paltrinieri.

Finke finished in 7 minutes 41.87 seconds, a quarter-second ahead of Paltrinieri, who held on for silver. Romanchuk captured the bronze.

The men’s 800 meters was added to the Olympics this year, along with the first women’s 1,500, which Katie Ledecky of the United States won. In 1904, the men swam an 880-yard race.