2022 World Champs Previews: Finke vs The Europeans Again in the Men’s 800 Free

2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

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By The Numbers:

  • World Record: Zhang Lin (CHN) – 7:32.12 (2009)
  • World Junior Record: Mack Horton (AUS) – 7:45.67 (2013)
  • 2020 Olympic Champion: Bobby Finke (USA) – 7:41.87
  • 2019 World Champion: Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) – 7:39.27

In the first Olympic edition of the men’s 800, Bobby Finke powered past the field over the last 25 meters, moving from fifth to first to win the gold medal. On the last 50, Finke split 26.39 (he was actually faster, 25.78, in the 1500) and went 7:41.87 to lower his own American record and move to #13 all-time.

Despite owning the most recent Olympic gold and a supernova of a last lap, we’d hesitate to call Finke the favorite heading into Budapest. This season, Finke has the third-fastest time in 7:43.42. In our preview of the 1500, we mentioned some of the critiques you could level at Finke’s 1500 win in Tokyo, and those apply here as well.

In addition, six men in the field have faster best times than him. Finke is still capable of medaling, but he’ll have to contend with a field that knows his strategy and is looking to bounce back after being off their games in the Olympic final.

GERMAN AND ITALIAN DOUBLE THREATS

That said, Finke’s biggest threat to another gold medal is a man who wasn’t in the race in Tokyo. Lukas Märtens is riding the momentum of a superlative spring and is the top-ranked swimmer in the world in the 400, 800, and 1500. In the 800, he negative-split a 7:41.43 at the Stockholm Open, breaking Florian Wellbrock’s German record of 7:41.77. That swim makes him the 10th fastest performer of all time and makes him the man to beat in Budapest. All of his times were done at local meets however, which raises the question of how he’ll perform under the lights. To remain at the top of this stacked field, he’ll have to hold on to his times, if not drop more, which can be difficult when you’ve already dropped so much time.

The 12th-fastest performer of all time, Wellbrock also negative-split his swim at the Stockholm Open. He went 3:53.42/3:49.68 for a season-best of 7:43.10. Wellbrock finished fourth in Tokyo, three-tenths off the podium, though his time from the prelims would have won gold. The 24-year-old is coming off a strong short course season where he went 14:06.88 in the 1500 to break the world record. That swim could indicate he’s got a drop coming in the big pool as well, and he’ll be eager to not repeat what happened in Tokyo here.

Gregorio Paltrinieri. Photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

The Italians have their own 1-2 punch in this event. Gregorio Paltrinieri is the 2019 World Champion, which he won in 7:39.27 to become the sixth-fastest all-time performer. He took the Olympic final out hard from Lane 8, and hung on for the silver medal. At SC Euros, he set a new European record in 7:27.99. In long course, he’s been 7:46.01 this season, but expect him to have more in the tank for Worlds. However, Paltrinieri has shifted his focus more towards open water lately, which has changed his stroke. Given that shift, and the fact that the rest of the field has caught up to him, he’s no longer a lock for a medal the same way he was in the 2010s.

Gabriele Detti sits just behind Paltrinieri on the all-time performers’ list with his 7:40.77 swim that won the 2017 Worlds. Detti has dealt with numerous injuries in the last few years, but still had a solid showing in Tokyo. This season, he’s been 7:48.07, which is well off his lifetime best and puts him in the middle of the pack coming into the competition.

EUROPEANS EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE

Mykhailo Romanchuk. Photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Mykhailo Romanchuk is the Tokyo bronze medalist. Like Wellbrock, his time from the Olympic prelims (7:41.28) was faster than what Finke swam to win gold the next night. That swim also put him into a tie for #8 all-time with Norway’s Henrik Christiansen (who we’ll get to in a minute). Romanchuk has only been 7:51.39 this season, but expect him to be faster in Budapest. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Romanchuk has been training with Wellbrock and Märtens. He said that if the Wellbrocks had not reached out to him, he likely would have retired and gone to war. His countrymate Sergii Frolov, who finished sixth in Tokyo, is not entered in the competition.

Felix Auboeck clocked a lifetime best 7:45.32 at the Stockholm Open. The Austrian was seventh in Tokyo, and has only continued improving after a 2021 where he set lifetime bests in the 200/400/800/1500. It seems that he’s geared more towards the 400 of late, but he clearly hasn’t hit his ceiling yet and should be a factor in this final as well.

Christiansen hit 7:41.28 to win the silver medal at the 2019 Worlds. He couldn’t replicate that in Tokyo, finishing ninth in 7:48.37 and failing to make the final. He’s sitting on the 24th fastest time this season at 7:53.27, so he’ll need to find his form quickly if he wants to make the final this year.

Daniel Jervis (Great Britain) and Daniel Wiffen (Ireland) are currently on the outside looking into the final. Jervis has been 7:49.95 this season, about a second of his best, while Wiffen clocked 7:50.74 for a new personal best. If they drop, they could find themselves with a chance t0 final.

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Ahmed Hafnaoui is best known for his outside smoke Olympic gold-winning performance in the 400 free; however, he’s also someone to watch in the longer distances. He missed the final in this event in Tokyo, finishing 10th, but his lifetime best is 7:45.54, which puts him right in the thick of things.

However, we learned earlier this week that Hafnaoui will not be racing in Budapest.

Guilherme Costa finished eighth in Tokyo, seven seconds off the lifetime best and Brazilian Record 7:46.09 that he swam in the heats. He was pre-qualified for Worlds via his appearance in the Olympic final, so he presumably didn’t taper much for the Brazil Trophy and clocked 7:52.40. Expect him to be much faster in Budapest.

The Australian duo of Elijah Winnington and Samuel Short clocked lifetime bests at Australian Trials to punch their tickets to Budapest in this event. Winnington won in 7:45.30, the fourth-fastest time in the world this year, vaulting him into contention for the final. Short finished second in 7:48.65, blowing past the 7:50 mark for the first time. This is the 18-year-old’s first World Championship; he’ll probably have to drop again in order to final, but that isn’t out of the question.

SWIMSWAM’S PICKS

Place Name Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Florian Wellbrock Germany 7:43.10 7:41.77
2 Bobby Finke USA 7:43.32 7:41.87
3 Lukas Märtens Germany 7:41.43 7:41.43
4 Gregorio Paltrinieri Italy 7:46.01 7:39.27
5 Felix Auboeck Austria 7:45.32 7:45.32
6 Mykhailo Romanchuk Ukraine 7:51.39 7:41.28
7 Gabriele Detti Italy 7:48.07 7:40.77
8 Elijah Winnington Australia 7:45.30 7:45.30

DARK HORSE: Charlie Clark (USA) – Clark dropped over four seconds from his entry time at U.S Trials to clock a personal best of 7:50.07 to make his first major international team. Like other swimmers sitting on the 7:50 bubble, he’ll likely have to drop again to make the final, but he’s clearly still improving and with a strong swim could edge a big name out of a second swim.

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AnEn
11 days ago

My prediction:
Finke
Märtens
Wellbrock
Auböck
Romanchuk
Paltrinieri
Winnington
Detti

Short

Meathead
14 days ago

Spoiler 🚨. Finke wins

commonwombat
14 days ago

Finke landed a double ambush in Tokyo where, it has to be said, nearly every other main contender played into his hands.

His MO is now well known; the issue is whether the Europeans will actually have the nerve and the form to take the race away from him. If they don’t and just lapse into match racing, its most likely Game Over.

Robbos
14 days ago

Martens v Finke in my opinion in the 800 free.

ferrari owner
14 days ago

go the italians! hoping detti puts himself in with a shot and finals in 800

Andy Hardt
14 days ago

It’s a strong field, but I’m surprised Martens isn’t ranked higher in the distance events. He has had a special first half to the year, and could be the sport’s next superstar. It’s hard to know what to expect with a swimmer so new to this level, but I’ll put my chips down and say I expect him to win multiple world titles this year, and set at least one long course world record by the time Paris rolls around.

Fobby Binke
14 days ago

BOBBY FINKE

LET’S GO…!

Mike
14 days ago

I think Finke wins this but loses the mile. But it will be a close final I believe

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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