2022 World Champs Previews: Can Finke Fend Off The Germans In The Mile?


  • June 18-25, 2022 (pool swimming)
  • Budapest, Hungary
  • Duna Arena
  • LCM (50-meter format)
  • Meet Central

By The Numbers:

  • World Record: Sun Yang, China, 14:31.02 (2012)
  • Championship Record – Sun Yang, China, 14:34.14 (2011)
  • 2021 Olympic Champion – Bobby Finke, United States, 14:39.35
  • 2019 World Champion – Florian Wellbrock, Germany, 14:36.54
  • FINA ‘A’ Cut – 15:04.64

We all know the story by now. It’s the Olympic final of men’s 1500 free, and the swimmers are headed into the final turn. Defending world champion Florian Wellbrock is in the lead, with Mykhailo Romanchuk trailing behind him in second. But then all of a sudden, in the final 50 meters of the race, Bobby Finke comes home charging like a freight train in an incredible 25.77-second last lap to take the gold. And for the first time since 1984, America had an Olympic champion in the men’s 1500 free.

Finke’s finishes in the long-distance races has become so iconic to the point where someone being run down in the last 50 meters of a race has become synonymous with the term “getting Finked”. But a critic could say that there were so many variables within Finke’s win, such as 2016 Olympic Champion Gregorio Paltrinieri being down with a case of mono during the Tokyo Games, and many of the swimmers in the field being off their best times. In fact, three swimmers in that Olympic final (Paltrinieri, Romanchuk and Wellbrock) have best times that are faster than Finke’s 14:39.65 Olympic gold medal-winning time.

Currently, Finke holds a season-best of 14:45.72 from his dominant showing at the U.S. Trials in late April. He closed that race in 29.7, which is pedestrian by his standards, but shouldn’t be a surprise given that he led by over six seconds at the final turn. Now, the question comes down to this: Can Finke carry his Tokyo success into Budapest, and will his rivals have his closing strategy figured out? Either way, men’s distance is shaping up to be one of the most competitive realms in this sport.

The Threats To The Throne

Germany might only be sending 11 swimmers to the World Championships, but they are certainly one of the best nations in the world of men’s distance swimming. Why? Because Florian Wellbrock and Lukas Märtens are two of the strongest milers in the world right now, and could very well get past Finke’s closing tactics to take gold.

Berlin, Deutschland - April 16: Olympiaqualifikation Beckenschwimmen, Florian Wellbrock, SC Magdeburg (Photo by JoKleindl)

Berlin, Deutschland – April 17: Olympiaqualifikation Beckenschwimmen, Florian Wellbrock, SC Magdeburg (Photo by JoKleindl)

The favorite on paper to win Olympic gold last year, Wellbrock ended up falling short and took bronze in a time of 14:40.91, off his lifetime best of 14:36.15. However, he bounced back later in the Games to become the Olympic champion in the 10-kilometer open water race. Wellbrock’s statement swim since Tokyo was when he broke the world record in the short course 1500 free last December, swimming a time of 14:06.88 to down Paltrinieris’ mark of 14:08.06 and beat out the field by over four seconds. After becoming the fastest short course miler ever, he is primed to carry his dominance into long course and defend his world title.

This season, the 24-year-old ranks fourth in the world with a time of 14:47.03.

Following in the footsteps of his countrymate, Märtens has developed himself into a force in distance swimming. Just 20, Märtens’ swims this year have shown Ledecky-like range, producing elite times from the 200 free all the way up to the mile.

After finishing 11th at the Olympics last year in a time of 14:59.45 (his season-best was 14:49.26 from German Trials), Märtens made a huge jump when he dropped a 14:40.28 this past March, a time that would have been fast enough to win silver last summer. He’s currently the top-ranked swimmer in the world in the 400, 800 and 1500 free, and sits third in the 200 free.

However, all of Märtens’ times were swum at local meets. Will he be able to handle the pressure and load of a high-stakes competition like Worlds, and do well in all four of his events, especially when the men’s 1500 free is on the last day of the meet? In a field of swimmers who will primarily only be only swimming the 800 and 1500 free, Märtens has the disadvantage of a much more congested schedule, leaving room for fatigue to kick in towards the final stages of the meet.

If you thought Finke’s closing speed was special, watch out for the Germans, because they seemed to have picked it up as well. Wellbrock negative split his 1500 free SC world record 7:04.33/7:02.33 and closed in 26.88, while Martens negative split a 7:41.33 800 free recently for a new German record.

Mykhailo Romanchuk.Photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto.

Also training with Märtens and Wellbrock is Ukrainian swimmer Mykhailo Romanchuk. As the defending Olympic and two-time World silver medalist, Romanchuk has consistently been a podium favorite, but has never quite made it to the top on the biggest stage (though he does have a short course world title and four LC European golds to his name).

Romanchuk’s best time is 14:36.88, set in a razor-thin battle with Wellbrock at the 2018 European Championships, and he’s been hovering around that time constantly at major international meets. His season-best stands at the 14:54.10 he clocked at the Stockholm Open, which is ranked eighth in the world this year.

Romanchuk’s move to train in Germany is due to Russia’s invasion of his home country this February. He stated that if the Wellbrocks hadn’t reached out to him about training arrangements, he likely would have retired.

“I think about Ukraine all the time, about my wife, about my family, my friends. I can’t think about training normally. It’s difficult,” Romanchuk said. “If I hadn’t come here, I probably would have ended my swimming career. Then I would have had to get a gun and go to war.”

Then there’s Italian distance legend and 2016 Olympic Champion Gregorio Paltrinieri. We saw him finish fourth in Tokyo in 14:45.01, falling out of the medal picture over the back-half of the race. He finished in the same position at Short Course Worlds, staying with the pack in the first portion of the race but then trailing off the pace to take fourth. Recently, he’s been stronger in the 800 free, having taken silver at the 2021 Olympics and gold at LC and SC Euros. However, don’t count him out in the mile, as just a year before the Olympics, he swam the second-fastest time ever in the event: 14:33.10.

Paltrinieri currently has the second-fastest time in the world for the 2021-22 season, going 14:44.39 to win the mile at Italian Trials.

Paltrinieri has also been known not to have the finishing speed of some of the other top distance swimmers, and with someone like Finke now in the fold, you have to wonder if the Italian will make a concerted effort to break away early and see if he can hold on. That’s his best shot at returning to the top of the podium.

Best Of The Rest

Ahmed Hafnaoui is better known for his surprise win in the 400 free at the Olympics last year. However, the Tunisian native and Indiana University commit is a pretty accomplished miler as well. He didn’t race the 1500 free in Tokyo, but did finish second at Short Course Worlds in a time of 14:10.94, making him the fifth-fastest performer of all time. In that same meet, he didn’t even make the final of the 400 free, raising the question about whether he’s actually more geared towards the longer events.

After first capturing the attention of the swimming community by seriously challenging Finke at the U.S. Open last December, Charlie Clark established himself as an elite distance swimmer when he finished second at U.S. Trials, clocking a massive best time of 14:51.78. That’s nearly a 23-second improvement from what he went at Olympic Trials the year before, and his time would have finished fifth at the Olympics.

Great Britain’s Daniel Jervis is a consistent 14:50-range swimmer, holding the #7 time this season at 14:51.92. He finished fifth at the Olympics finals in 14:55.48, although his lifetime best of 14:46.51 was set in 2019.

Although he’s more geared towards the 400 free, having recently won the Short Course World title in the event, Austria’s Felix Auboeck finished seventh at the Olympics in the mile with a time of 15:03.47. Similar to Jervis, he also set his personal best time of 14:51.88 in the prelims of that meet.

Nordic record holder Henrik Christiansen didn’t make the final of the 1500 free at the Olympics last year, finishing 21st with a time of 15:11.14. However, his best time of 14:45.35 from finishing fifth at 2019 Worlds is still incredibly competitive, and he could get himself back into a finals position if he gets close to that. He has yet to break 15 minutes since then, though.

Sergii Frolov of Ukraine finished eighth at the Olympics, but has yet to compete since then, leaving his status for Worlds uncertain. Similarly, sixth-place finisher Kirill Martynychev out of Russia will not be competing after the nation was banned from competing earlier this year.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Place Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime best
1 Florian Wellbrock Germany 14:47.03 14:36.15
2 Bobby Finke United States 14:45.72 14:39.35
3 Lukas Märtens Germany 14:40.28 14:40.28
4 Gregorio Paltrinieri Italy 14:44.30 14:33.10
5 Mykhailo Romanchuk Ukraine 14:54.10 14:36.88
6 Ahmed Hafnaoui Tunisia N/A 15:16.04
7 Charlie Clark United States 14:51.78 14:51.78
8 Daniel Jervis Great Britain 14:51.92 14:50.22

Dark Horse – Samuel Short, Australia: At Aussie Trials this year, Short miscounted his race and stopped at the 1400 mark, causing him to miss the FINA ‘A’ cut and go a time of 15:05.55. He has the qualifying time in the 800 free and made the team through that, meaning he could potentially still swim the 1500 free as the winner of that event at trials. 15:05.55 is still a really decent time, and you’d have to imagine how fast he could have gone if he didn’t stop mid-race.

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5 months ago

My prediction:

5 months ago

Not that important but Jervis has been 14:46 for a PB in 2019.

Max Hardie
6 months ago

Anybody knows about Grgic? He swam Junior WR time 2 years ago at 16 (14.45), then got injured and missed Tokyo.

Fluke Finke
6 months ago

No way Finke repeats his Tokyo thing he is a fluke. Especially with Martens, Wellbrock, and Roman training together while Finke trains with a female LOL

Reply to  Fluke Finke
6 months ago

said female is the greatest distance swimmer of all time. a few of her times can easily put her in the men’s events for the 2024 trials.

6 months ago

she’s the only woman whose times are good enough to make the men’s trials cuts, and she runs close to WR pace even in training

Reply to  Fluke Finke
6 months ago

Your gonna talk about the goat like that?? Get your facts straight she trains with olympians as Yanyan reiterated.

6 months ago

There’s no escaping the fact that Finke’s 2 closing burst in Tokyo were memorable and his victories well deserved. One cannot, however, overlook that for whatever reasons; these races were raced rather conservatively by a number of other names who may’ve fell into the trap of match-racing plus Paltrineiri being ill.

Can he back up in Budapest ?? Certainly cannot be ruled out however his M.O is now well known and its up to his competitors to write a different script for the race that works for them rather than him.

Reply to  commonwombat
6 months ago

this is a fair assessment. I’ll add that the assessment in no way diminishes what he did and he is still young in his swim career and can improve and repeat his triumphs.

6 months ago

I love how much strategy is going to have to go into this race. Finke’s strategy is unfortunately neutered by the fact that the rest of the field knows it’s coming, but it also gives him a huge mental edge because everyone else has to run away from him. An added benefit is the ability to throw off his competitors by taking the race out instead of hanging back. Obviously a risk to change game plans but it could pay off big time.

As for everyone else they’re pigeonholed into blasting out as far as they can on the first 1450 meters. Finke is a great swimmer, but there’s a limit to what he can do in terms of… Read more »

Reply to  Swammer
6 months ago

That’s the thing though… People keep saying ‘oh Finke will always swim faster in the last lap so just needs to stay with them’ as if swimming faster to stay with the field requires no effort. He was able to do that in Tokyo because the favourites were sick and underperformed. He can’t magically keep pace with the fastest in the world and expect that it won’t impact his final lap speed.

Reply to  Jamesabc
6 months ago

I agree with you but you make it sound as if Bobby only won because everyone had a bad race and he didn’t. I believe the only sick one was Greg, but the rest were ok, just didn’t match their season bests or even prelims time, but we forget that he Finked them twice. It wasn’t a one time thing. They knew his strategy but were still beaten.

Reply to  Calvin
6 months ago

I’m not saying he only won because of luck but luck was a much bigger factor than people want to admit. Two swimmers swam faster in the heat than Finke swam in the final of the 800. Finke wasn’t the top time in either of his events for the year/season.

I’m not trying to take away his achievement of winning two gold medals which is outstanding. But it’s not like he was far and away the best at either event. Certain circumstances occurred which made him the fastest in the two finals. If he repeats at Worlds then that will put a bit more weight behind him. But at this point he has only ever competed at one senior competition… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Jamesabc
Reply to  Jamesabc
6 months ago

I don’t disagree with your last paragraph.
However, to say he wasn’t the best is wrong, he won both events at the Olympics doing it the same way, so after the 800, they knew what he would be in the 1500 & he still won.
He may not have the best times last season, but he was definitely the best 800/1500 swimmer last year & has 2 golds to show for it.

Reply to  Swammer
6 months ago

never let them know your next move

6 months ago

Märtens’ 800 split was 7:53.78 for his 14:40.28 PR, which is a bit slow for someone who can swim 7:41 in 800. He definitely has an upside in him.

Reply to  olivy
6 months ago

No, that’s just not how he swims 1500m

Reply to  olivy
6 months ago

Ian Thorpe 800 PB was 7:38, using your logic, he could have easily swam 14:35

That’s not how it works.

Reply to  Swimswamswum
6 months ago

AFAIK, Thrope never swam 1500 when he was in top shape. I would not rule 14:35 out as he was something else.

M d e
Reply to  Mako
6 months ago

Prime Thorpe swimming with frost probably could have been the best 1500 swimmer in the world tbh. Would have been damn close.

Reply to  Mako
6 months ago

he did a 30:16 3k at the OTC back in like 2001 when he was training briefly in the US

Reply to  Swimswamswum
6 months ago

7:39 from thorpe not 38

6 months ago

Finke has turns a sprinter would envy. When he is rested and on, he gets off the walls way faster than any distance swimmer I’ve ever seen, and has an excellent streamline. He conserves a considerable amount of energy this way and doesn’t have to work as hard to try and stay in range of the leaders, which in turn allows him to save his legs and close like a freight train. If anyone is going to beat him, I think they’ll need about 3 seconds lead.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming through scoring countless dual meets, being a timer, and keeping track of her teammates' best times for three years as a team manager. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in …

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