2023 U.S. World Trials Previews: A Frenzy Behind Finke in Men’s 1500 Free

2023 U.S. National Championships

Men’s 1500 Free – By The Numbers:

  • World Record: Sun Yang (CHN) – 14:31.02 (2012)
  • American Record: Bobby Finke (USA) – 14:36.70 (2022)
  • U.S. Open Record: 14:45.54 – Peter Vanderkaay, USA (2008)
  • 2022 U.S. International Team Trials Winner: Bobby Finke – 14:45.72
  • World Aquatics ‘A’ Cut: 15:04.64

Bobby Finke revived American male distance swimming when he overtook two swimmers on the final length to win gold in the 1500 freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, America’s first gold medal in the event in 37 years.

He further established himself as the face of North American distance freestylers at the 2022 World Championships by breaking Connor Jaeger’s 1500 free American record to win silver. Finke’s negative split style has proven unstoppable on the national level since then.

While men’s distance swimming has been on the rise internationally–occasionally bringing Finke competition at Pro Swim Series meets–Finke remains the only American to crack the World Aquatics ‘A’ cut of 15:04.64 this season. He is the clear favorite to win at the upcoming U.S. Trials, even though his season-best time is 15:02.54 from the Fort Lauderdale Pro Swim Series in March, about 26 seconds off his fastest time from two years ago.

There are plenty of contenders for that second spot in Fukuoka, though, as four swimmers own best times faster than the ‘A’ cut: Charlie Clark, David Johnston, Michael Brinegar, and Will Gallant. A lot can happen in 15 laps. And on paper, it’s shaping up to be a closer race for second place than last year since no American man has broken 15:00 this season.

Technically, Finke will still have to make sure his hand touches the wall first. But, everyone else at Trials will have two jobs: win the battle for second place and break 15:04.64.

Recent International Representatives

Ohio State’s Clark is in a familiar spot as the second-fastest man this season so far. Although it’s so early in the season that many of last year’s top contenders haven’t even raced the 1500 free yet.

Clark went alongside Finke to the 2022 World Championships in this event, ultimately finishing 10th in 15:00.33 after setting a PB of 14:51.78 at Trials. Clark has been under 15:20 twice this season, posting a 15:19.17 in April at the Westmont Pro Swim Series and then a 15:04.80 in May at the Indy Spring Cup. He’s been strong and consistent, meaning history might just repeat itself this year.

Keep an eye out for Indiana’s Brinegar, who went to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics with Finke in this event.

Brinegar didn’t compete at the U.S. Trials last year after he was named to the 2022 U.S. World Open Water Championships roster in May. He qualified for the 25K open water event but withdrew after a bout with COVID-19 close to the start of the meet.

Brinegar’s been as fast as 15:11.49 this season, a time he posted at the Fort Lauderdale Pro Swim Series in March. He recently raced Clark at the Indy Spring Cup, but swam a 15:22.23 to place a distant second.

We predicted that Brinegar would beat Clark in the 800 free, but the sheer length of the 1500 free makes it a much different event. Clark had nearly unbeatable endurance in the 1500 free ‘A’ final at this meet last year, out-splitting even Finke at times during the final 500 meters.

Texas’ Johnston, the fourth-fastest man in the country this season behind Brinegar, produced a time of 15:16.19 to place second at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim Series in May. However, he’s likely to have more in the tank with a lifetime best time of 15:02.37 from the 2022 Nationals and his recent success in short course meters.

Johnston represented Team USA at the 2022 Australian Short Course Championships last August, where became the second-fastest American ever in the SCM 1500 free in 14:22.77 while also breaking the American record in the 800 free. His performance earned him a spot on our list of five breakout candidates for the 2022-2023 international season.

Other National Team Members

Only one man from last year’s Trials ‘A’ final has broken 15:00.00 before–other than Finke–and that’s Will Gallant of NC State. He’s coming off an NCAA championship title win in the 1650 free which he earned with a lifetime best time.

Gallant hasn’t actually raced the 1500 free yet this season, but his best time stands at 14:57.08 from the 2022 Summer Nationals last year which earned him the victory over Johnston. Looking at his recent 800 free season-best time from June (7:58.99, five seconds off his lifetime best), he seems to be in a position to swim fast in this event as well.

Alec Enyeart of Texas is also in the running for that second-place spot. He placed fourth last year and has a lifetime best time of 15:05.10 from July 2022. It’s hard to gauge where he is at this summer since he’s only swum the 1500 once so far this season, clocking a 15:27.16 at the Mission Viejo PSS.

Enyeart was also on our list of the top five swimmers who could break out during the 2022-2023 international season. He had a solid collegiate season, finishing 13th in the 1650 free at the NCAA Championships, COMING within four seconds of his lifetime best time. He would have to drop time in long course, though, to keep up with the rest of the field.

Two people who technically could be contenders but have shifted away from the 1500 in the past couple of years are Ross Dant and Zane Grothe. Dant’s best time is 15:22.06 from 2019 and he hasn’t swum the event since 2021. He chose to focus on the 400 free and 800 free at the 2022 U.S. Trials where he placed third and fourth, respectively.

Grothe clocked 15:30.33 at the 2022 U.S. Open and has only swum it one other time this season, posting a 15:38.18 at the Knoxville Pro Swim Series. He will likely narrow down his event lineup to the 200 and 400 free as he did last year (and likely the 100 free, where he’s seen some progress of late).

Best of the Rest

There are three ‘A’ finalists from last year’s Trials who we haven’t mentioned yet: Matthew Chai, Brice Barrieault, and Giovanni Linscheer.

Chai and Barrieault haven’t raced the 1500 free yet this season, making them hard to predict. Chai just finished his freshman season at Cal where he placed 5th in the 1650 free at the Pac-12 Championships about 10 seconds off his best time. He placed fifth in this event last year at Trials with his current best time of 15:16.42 and if he can do that again, he’s set to at least keep pace with Enyeart.

Barrieault also blasted his current best time in this event at last year’s Trials, a 15:25.59 to place seventh. He recently won the 1650 free for Army at the 2023 Patriot League Championships, also about ten seconds off his lifetime best time. As a rising junior, he has the advantage of having made the college season to international season transition before. He already handled it well last season after his freshman year.

While Linscheer does own a sub-15:30 best time (having swum a 15:25.91 last year), his current season-best time stands at 15:47.28. He had a successful short course season with Florida, posting a lifetime best 1650 free time to place 16th at NCAA’s. But, he would have to drop a significant amount of time to keep up with everyone else.

Other young blood with a chance to place in the top eight includes Luke Whitlock and Levi Sandidge. Whitlock, who swims with the Fishers Area Swimming Tigers, had an eventful Sectionals showing in March, dropping a lifetime best time of 15:28.15 in the 1500. Sandidge, who just finished his freshman year at Kentucky, also has had a recent lifetime best swim in the 1500, posting a 15:30.04 in May. He had a massive breakthrough in February, dropping 18 seconds to win the 1650 at SECs.

While both Whitlock and Sandidge would have to crush their best times to place high in the top eight, they’re riding incredible momentum and there’s no telling what they can do.

SwimSwam’s Top 8 Picks:

Note: Distance events are timed finals, with the fastest heat swimming in finals

Place Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Bobby Finke 15:02.54 14:36.70
2 Charlie Clark 15:04.80 14:51.78
3 David Johnston 15:16.19 15:02.37
4 Michael Brinegar 15:11.49 15:00.82
5 Will Gallant 14:57.08
6 Alec Enyeart 15:27.16 15:05.10
7 Matthew Chai 15:28.25 15:16.42
8 Luke Whitlock 15:28.15 15:28.15

Dark Horse: Luke Ellis The Sandpipers of Nevada swimmer has been on fire lately, swimming a lifetime-best 1500 free time of 15:29.67 at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions (SMOC) in mid-April. That was a 10-second drop for the 16-year-old from the 15:40.50 he posted in January to place fifth at the Knoxville Pro Swim Series. Before that meet, his best time barely cracked 16:00.00 (15:59.95). He’s continued to drop time in other distance races this summer, most recently blasting best times in the 800 free at the NOVA Grand Challenge. If Ellis can ride that momentum and shave more time off his 1500, he might make it into the top eight at Trials.

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Snowpipers of Alaska
3 months ago

We all know how this will go. Brinegar, Clark, and Johnston will be the Top 3 through the 1450m mark, then Bobby Finke will mow all of them down on the last 50, swimming that final lap in a whopping 3 seconds.

3 months ago

1500m is literally 30 laps

3 months ago

Chai is MIA this year. I didn’t see him entered in the Santa Clara meet. It’s a weak field I feel like USA should have more guys able to smash the 15 min barrier.

Reply to  Taa
3 months ago

He’s been sick a good amount of the college season (missed multiple fall and spring duals and midseason invite), came back in time for Pac-12s with a 4:20 and 14:55 in the distances.

Sherry Smit
3 months ago

When will the women’s 100 fly prediction come out? Dying to see that race. Huske is the clear favorite, but Curzan, Douglass, Walsh, Smith, Shackell, and maybe even Luther and Pash are going to battle for second

3 months ago

Will Finke have to rest or is he a lock in this event?

Reply to  RealSlimThomas
3 months ago

If he’s trying to make the team in a third event (400 IM/400 free) he’ll need some rest. But probably doesn’t need a full taper to win 800/1500

Reply to  chickenlamp
3 months ago

Based on performances from trials to worlds the last 2 years, they tend to have more in the tank with him for the big one. Still comes down quite a bit for trials though, in season Finke is pretty slow.

Swimmy Jimmy
3 months ago

Go Luke!!

3 months ago

Swimswam’s gonna eat this prediction placing Gallant 5th.

Reply to  Snarky
3 months ago

Every time you make a prediction related to “eating” you lose, so RIP Will Gallant.

Has your mouth recovered from those peppers yet? ;-).

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

5th? C’mon. If he makes the team you eat the peppers.

Reply to  Braden Keith
3 months ago

You’ve also predicted Gallant to lose to Johnston twice in the last year, both nationals and you’ve been wrong.

Sherry Smit
3 months ago

It’s funny how Ledecky could be on this list.

Reply to  Sherry Smit
3 months ago

Yes, but it’s of a testament to the lack of depth in American distance than Ledecky’s otherworldly abilities

Reply to  Andrew
3 months ago

That’s on the men’s side.

Reply to  Andrew
3 months ago

Everyone wants to be a sprinter!

Reply to  Andrew
3 months ago

Missing an important word here, Andrew. Did you mean “more of a testament” or “less of a testament “?

Reply to  Sherry Smit
3 months ago

Not particularly funny, just pathetic for the US men. No one under 15:00 this year. I don’t care if no one has rested yet, they will need to drop 20-30 seconds to even be competitive with the rest of the world.

Reply to  IMO
3 months ago

Top-17 times in the world this year are sub-15 and come from championship-level meets.

When Finke does drop 30 seconds and take home hardware, will you regret your criticism? Albeit partially because he was swimming in the NCAA, he only had one 1500 at 15:04 leading up to US world trials for 2022 World Championships.

About Annika Johnson

Annika Johnson

Annika came into the sport competitively at age eight, following in the footsteps of her twin sister and older brother. The sibling rivalry was further fueled when all three began focusing on distance freestyle, forcing the family to buy two lap counters. Annika is a three-time Futures finalist in the 200 …

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