2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Intense Battle Shaping Up For 2nd in the Men’s 800 Free



  • World Record: 7:32.11 — Zhang Lin, China (2009)
  • American Record: 7:38.67 — Bobby Finke (2023)
  • U.S. Open Record: 7:40.34 — Bobby Finke, United States (2023)
  • World Junior Record: 7:43.37 — Lorenzo Galossi, Italy (2022)
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Bobby Finke, United States — 7:41.87
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion:  Bobby Finke — 7:48.22
  • 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 8:09.69
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time — 7:51.65

The men’s 800 freestyle is a similar story to the 1500 freestyle. Over the last three years, Bobby Finke has swum away from the field. He won this event at 2021 Olympic Trials in 7:48.22, the second fastest swim of his career to that point.

Finke hasn’t looked back since striking Olympic gold in a stunning upset. He’s continued to increase his lead on the other American distance specialists. He’s reset the American record four times, bringing it down from Michael McBroom’s 7:43.60 to the 7:38.67 he swam for bronze at 2023 World Championships. That time puts him nearly 10 seconds ahead of the field in Indianapolis.

So, like the 1500 freestyle, it becomes about how fast Finke is going to be at Trials when the opportunity for his ultimate goal—defending gold—is still two months away. Last summer, he set the U.S Open record at 7:40.34 en route to his 7:38.67 in Fukuoka.

Finke is the clear favorite in this race and like other qualification meets this quad, there’s an intense race for second taking shape.

Schubert’s Squad

Out in El Toro, California at The Swim Team (TST), Mark Schubert has amassed an elite distance crew since returning in February 2023 from a six-month stint coaching in China. Schubert’s distance group includes Olympian Michael Brinegar, Worlds qualifier David Johnston, and NCAA 1650-yard champion Will Gallant. All three will be in Indianapolis trying to earn an Olympic berth.

Of the three, we think it’s Johnston with the best shot at the second roster spot. He had a breakthrough 2023 U.S. Nationals, storming home to win the 400 freestyle and earn a spot on his first long-course Worlds team.

That success prompted him to take an Olympic redshirt year from Texas and train at TST full-time. Johnston is a distance free/IM specialist—he got to put that range on display at 2024 Worlds, taking advantage of the different selection procedure for the meet.

In Doha, Johnston popped a lifetime best 7:48.20 in the 800 freestyle, breaking 7L50 for the first time. Not only that, but he hit the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT) after missing it by .05 seconds with his 6th place finish (7:51.70).

Johnston’s time from 2024 Worlds is the fastest by an American this season. Finke will surely better that mark at Trials but it makes Johnston one of the strongest candidates to earn that second roster spot.

That’s something that his training partner Brinegar knows all about. Brinegar made the Tokyo Olympic team in both the 800/1500 freestyle. After the Games, he raced another collegiate season at Indiana before announcing that he wasn’t taking his final year of eligibility and would instead turn pro to focus on the Olympics. He stayed at Indiana briefly and eventually moved to train at TST.

Brinegar holds a lifetime best of 7:49.94 from 2021 Trials, making him one of three swimmers in this field (not including Finke) who have broken 7:50. His Olympic qualifying swim was the only time he’s been under that barrier. And while his fastest time in the qualifying period is 7:54.52, this season his best is a 7:57.11 from the Westmont Pro Series. He’s going to need to get back down near his best not just because it will certainly take faster than 7:54 to get 2nd but also because he’s still looking for the OQT (7:51.65) in the qualifying period.

Then, there’s Gallant. He’s on an Olympic redshirt season as well and normally races for NC State, where he was part of another strong distance group. Gallant was named to the original roster for 2024 Worlds, but pulled out. Still, he’s gotten plenty of racing in during his Olympic year and did race internationally at 2023 Pan Ams.

His season-best time is a 7:57.72 from the 2023 U.S. Open. That’s about seven seconds off his 7:50.75 lifetime best, swum for 3rd at 2023 U.S. Nationals.

Aside from Johnston’s trip to Doha, Schubert’s training group has had a relatively quiet season, which leaves plenty of questions about their Trials form. Johnston’s 2023 breakthrough makes him the favorite of the three for the second spot, though Brinegar’s proven success at Trials shouldn’t be overlooked. And for all we know, Gallant’s been saving something big for this meet.

More Recent International Representatives

Behind Finke’s steadiness, there’s been a revolving door of distance talent taking the second roster spot. Which means that it isn’t just Johnston and Brinegar who have repped the stars and stripes in the distance events this quad.

Ross Dant had a heartbreaking 2021 Trials, notching two 3rd place finishes (400/800 freestyle). In the 800 free, he flipped at the final turn in second place, but got overtaken in the closing meters of the race.

Two years later, he broke through and made the 2023 World Championship team in this race. Dant touched the wall in second with a 7:48.10, shaving more than two seconds off his lifetime best and breaking the 7:50 barrier. His previous best in this event was a 7:50.66 from 2021 Trials.

After Worlds, Dant went straight into the NCAA season with NC State. And aside from one day of a November dual meet between ASU and NC State, we haven’t seen Dant in long-course since Worlds. He had a quiet showing at men’s NCAAs, placing 15th in the 1650-yard free after getting 2nd last year and he has not raced since.

Dant broke through the 3rd place barrier decisively last season. He was the only person who joined Finke sub-7:50 in the U.S. Nationals final, beating many of the people who are going to be in this Trials field. At his best he’s capable of making the team—but there isn’t a lot of recent data to tell us about his form.

We do know more about what Charlie Clark is bringing to Indianapolis. Clark made both the 2022 and 2023 Worlds teams, making the 800/1500 free in the former year and solely the 1500 free in the latter. He also took the fall semester off from racing collegiately at Ohio State, though he returned to the Buckeyes for the second semester.

He posted a 7:54.87 at the 2024 World Championships, but the most encouraging sign for Clark in this event was his swim at the U.S. Open in December. There, he clocked a season-best 7:50.49, which is also the fastest he’s been in the qualifying window. The time is just .42 seconds off Clark’s personal best 7:50.07 from 2022 International Team Trials. Such a strong in-season swim is a good sign for Clark, who’s looking to take a firm grip on that second roster spot by making his first Olympic team.

While he still needs to drop more time to be competitive on the international stage, Clark is the only man in this field who went to all three World Championship meets this quad. Qualifying for the Paris team would go a long way towards cementing him as a the person to beat for the second spot on future international teams.

Looking for An Upset

Luke Whitlock is aiming to throw a wrench into all of these plans. The Florida commit has found a new level in the run up to Trials, making him a serious threat to stage an upset.

At the Indy May Cup, Whitlock posted lifetime bests in the 400/800/1500 freestyle, swimming 3:49.10/7:50.20/15:07.94. It’s difficult to gauge what more taper will have in store for him but the 800 freestyle is probably his best chance to make the team.

Whitlock swam 8:00.79 at 2023 U.S. Nationals, then broke eight minutes for the first time at 2023 World Juniors (7:55.00). His performance at the Indy May Cup is a 4.80 second drop from his previous best. It launches him up the rankings to sit in-between Clark and Gallant’s lifetime bests and #4 on the psych sheet. He’s coming into this meet with a lot less experience than the other swimmers we’ve already talked about, which could be a challenge that he needs to overcome at a pressure-packed meet like Trials. But conversely, Whitlock will have less expectations on his shoulders, which he could play to his advantage. If he’s in the final then he’s got the speed to sneak ahead of the older swimmers vying for that second spot.

Another swimmer who could surprise is Daniel Matheson. An upset by Matheson has longer odds than one from Whitlock, purely because Matheson has more time to drop.

The Sun Devil’s sitting 7th on the psych sheet with his 7:52.34 lifetime best from the U.S Pro Championship. So not only is he looking to bridge the gap to the top contenders, he’s still looking for the OQT. Since that swim, he’s only raced the 800m freestyle once, posting 8:15.65 at that ASU vs. NC State dual meet. Clearly, he’ll be faster in Indianapolis. That 7:52.34 swim was a personal best by nearly 10 seconds. It’s unlikely that he’s got a drop that big in him again but if he bridges the gap to the main contenders then he could make the race interesting.

Final Factors

The 2nd place times at the last three qualification meets were 7:49.94 at 2021 Trials, 7:50.07 at 2022 Trials, and 7:48.10 at 2023 U.S. Nationals. That means that after Brinegar’s 8th place on the psych sheet, it’s going to take a big drop from anyone else to get involved in that main fight for a roster spot.

If anyone’s capable of a big time drop, it’s Luka Mijatovic. Mijatovic—who turned 15 in April—has spent the last year resetting National Age Group records left and right. He’s made history by swimming faster than names like Michael Phelps (400 IM) and Ian Thorpe (200 free) did when they were in the 13-14 age group. In the 800 freestyle, Mijatovic owns a lifetime best 7:59.64 (13th seed). He set that mark at 2023 Junior Nationals and just missed it at this spring’s Marin Sectionals with a 7:59.67.

Mijatovic is still very young. While that does make it possible that we will see a big drop from him in this event, it also means that the expectation shouldn’t be for him to stage an upset and make the Olympic team. It took 7:57.11 to make the 2021 Trials final. Mijatovic’s in-season speed suggests that he’s ready to lower his lifetime best in this event, which could earn him a spot in the final.

Other names to watch are James Plage and Luke Ellis. As the 9th and 10th seeds, the two are entered just on the bubble of the final. Plage is a part of the NC State distance crew and holds a lifetime best 7:54.77 from 2022 Cary Sectionals.

Ellis—who swims for the Sandpipers and is committed to Indiana’s class of 2025—clocked his lifetime best more recently: a 7:56.40 at 2023 World Juniors. Neither have broken 8:00 at in-season meets during 2023-24 but should get back under that mark in Indianapolis. Still, they’ll need to be right on their bests in order to upset the favorites for the final.

The Verdict

This is Finke’s race to lose. And there’s nothing in his history to suggest that he’s in danger of mistiming this race. He’s got a lot of wiggle room as he looks to lock up a second Olympic qualification. For him, the main question is how fast will he swim.

However, there’s an intense battle shaping up for the second roster spot. Four swimmers—Dant, Johnston, Clark, and Brinegar—have all recently represented the U.S on an international team in this event. Then, mix in Gallant and a potential Whitlock spoiler and this could come down to the touch between multiple swimmers.

One thing to pay attention to is the fact that at 2022 and 2023 Trials, the distance races were timed finals. That’s not the case here—all the swimmers need to qualify for the final. And for swimmers who don’t have a lot of experience moving through rounds in distance events that could be a potential obstacle. It looks like it will take faster than 2021’s 7:57.11 to make this final but if any of the main contenders mistimes their prelims swim there are plenty of lesser-known swimmers waiting to pounce.

Place Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Bobby Finke 7:53.35 7:38.67
2 Luke Whitlock 7:50.20 7:50.20
3 David Johnston 7:48.20 7:48.20
4 Charlie Clark 7:50.49 7:50.07
5 Ross Dant 7:48.10
6 Will Gallant 7:57.72 7:50.75
7 Daniel Matheson 8:15.65 7:52.34
8 Michael Brinegar 7:57.11 7:49.94

Dark Horse: Andrew TaylorAndrew Taylor made an impression this NCAA postseason. The Florida freshman won the 1650-yard freestyle title from the early heats, dropping 26 seconds in the process. Then, he followed up by dropping more time to finish 3rd at NCAAs (14:37.80). Taylor is seeded way down the psych sheet at 35th with a lifetime best 8:06.86. But after those big swims in yards, Taylor could be about to make similar improvements in meters. It would take another big drop, but if his taper hits we could see Taylor well exceed his seed and even vie for a finals lane. 

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Head Timer
1 month ago

Go Ross Go!

1 month ago

Matheson will win a gold medal this summer.

1 month ago

Whitlock beating Finke with ease

1 month ago

Luka is making the final.

Reply to  HeGetsItDoneAgain
1 month ago

I was going back and fourth on this one and I do agree but if he does he’s more likely to sneak in there if he drops like 10 seconds and becomes like the 2nd seed going into finals I’m banking on him making the team but again I think it’s more likely he sneaks in there and gives some guys in the back a run at it

1 month ago

“Johnston has the best chance at the second spot” *picks him for third*

Reply to  bubo
1 month ago

of the three, Johnston has the best chance…”

1 month ago

Johnston should be firmly ahead of Whitlock. Both got their PBs this year and Johnston is a full 2 seconds ahead of Whitlock. I’d project as follows:

  1. Finke
  2. Johnston
  3. Whitlock
  4. Clark
  5. Brinegar
  6. Gallant
  7. Dant
  8. Matheson
Reply to  cheese
1 month ago

I like Whitlock over Johnston personally because he’s younger and potentially has more time to drop, but the experience of Johnston plus a faster PB does make it hard to pick against him. Like the title says, it’ll be a battle!

Reply to  NCSwimFan
1 month ago

Whitlock does not have the experience of swimming the heats and final of the 800 FR.

Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

I still wouldn’t underestimate Whitlock. Kid is tough and super competitive.

Swim Fast Swim Pretty
Reply to  SwimMom
1 month ago

Mama Whitlock enters the chat!

Reply to  Swim Fast Swim Pretty
1 month ago

LOL! I’m not his mom, but know Luke Whitlock well. It’s going to be a great 800 final, for sure.

Reply to  SwimMom
1 month ago

Most fast people are

Reply to  SwimMom
1 month ago


Last edited 1 month ago by Shaq
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
1 month ago

Phelps either at 2000 Trials…

Swim Jim
Reply to  cheese
1 month ago

Johnston’s PB is tapered. Whitlock’s is not.

WV Swammer
1 month ago

Thank the lord Bobby Finke is our distance superhero, cause without him, WOOF, this event is dire.

Swim Fast Swim Pretty
Reply to  WV Swammer
1 month ago


Reply to  WV Swammer
1 month ago

Whitlock and Mijatovic are looking great for LA 28 if not the next Worlds cycles if Finke retires, which I kinda doubt he will do.

Irrelevant Swim Production
1 month ago

Isnt Daniel wiffen getting the second spot

Reply to  Irrelevant Swim Production
1 month ago

yes how could they forget noted american daniel wiffen

Reply to  Irrelevant Swim Production
1 month ago

I mean I think US swim fans would definitely love to have him and Finke as a distance tag team, lol

Reply to  Irrelevant Swim Production
1 month ago

The Olympic Federation of Ireland disagrees.

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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