2024 U.S. Olympic Trials Previews: Bobby Finke In Control of 1500 Freestyle, 2nd Up for Grabs

2024 U.S. Olympic Trials

Men’s 1500 Freestyle — By The Numbers:

  • World Record: Sun Yang (CHN) – 14:31.02 (2012)
  • American Record: Bobby Finke – 14:31.59 (2023)
  • U.S. Open Record: Bobby Finke (USA) – 14:42.81 (2023)
  • World Junior Record: Franko Grgic (CRO) – 14:46.09 (2019)
  • 2021 Olympic Champion: Bobby Finke (USA) – 14:39.65
  • 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials Champion: Bobby Finke – 14:46.06
  • U.S. Olympic Trials Cut: 15:39.89
  • 2024 Olympic Qualifying Time: 15:00.99

The Favorite

Since winning double Olympic gold in thrilling fashion at the Tokyo Games, Bobby Finke has become the face of American male distance swimming. He’s also a key player in the revitalization of distance swimming on the international stage.

Finke’s 1500 freestyle gold medal in Tokyo was the United States’ first in the event in 37 years. He won that race in 14:39.65 and has continued to improve in the last three years. At the 2023 World Championships, he placed second to Ahmed Hafnaoui in a thrilling race with the third-fastest swim in history (14:31.59). And given the question marks surrounding Hafnaoui’s attendance at the Games, Finke returns to the Olympic stage as the gold medal favorite.

It would take a frankly huge upset for one of the other Americans to upset Finke in Indianapolis. In terms of Finke’s performance, the question is not so much about if he’ll win but what time he’ll do it in. Ahead of his historic performance in Fukuoka, he set a new U.S. Open record of 14:42.81. And last month at the Atlanta Classic, he broke 15 minutes for the first time in-season with a 14:58.08. Is that a sign that he’s going to drop down enough for Trials to chase that record or is he fully focused on Paris?

Finke’s dominance in the distance races makes this one of the less competitive events at U.S. Olympic Trials in terms of the title. But behind Finke, there’s a battle brewing that is set to be the main storyline of this event.

This Quad’s Olympic and Worlds Qualifiers

Since finishing 5th at the 2020 Olympic Trials, Charlie Clark has become a consistent presence on the U.S’s senior international meet roster. He’s represented the United States at all three of the World Championship meets this quad, mostly recently finishing 10th in the 1500 free at the 2024 World Championships in Doha. There, he logged a 14:57.44 which makes him one of the only swimmers in the field to have gotten under 15 minutes this season.

Not to mention, he’s got the second-fastest personal best in the field (14:50.84), trailing only Finke. He’s swum a personal best for the last three seasons, and that swim in Doha—the fourth fastest of his career—sets him up well to continue that trend this year.

Charlie Clark 1500 Free PB Progression

2021 2022 2023
15:04.37 14:51.78 14:50.84

If you were to place a bet for the top two at Trials, there’s no question that Clark is the safe bet given his improvements and his consistent place on the U.S international rosters over the last three years.

The most likely challenge to Clark’s Olympic bid is Michael Brinegar, already an Olympian in his own right. Brinegar made the Tokyo Olympic team in both the 800 and 1500 freestyle. After the Games, he competed another season at Indiana before announcing he was forgoing his final year of eligibility to focus on preparations for Paris. He left Indiana and went to train at The Swim Team (other names that we’ll get to shortly have since joined him).

After turning pro, Brinegar took an extended break from competition and we did not see him until the 2023 Knoxville Pro Series, where he raced his first 1500 free in almost 18 months. He got back in form and later that year, broke 15 minutes for the first time at the TYR Pro Championships (14:59.54).

Brinegar holds a season-best of 15:09.72 from the Westmont Pro Series stop. That means there’s a significant gap between him and Clarke in both their season and lifetime bests. The lifetime best gap is the more important gap to pay attention to — if Clarke is at his best in Indianapolis, then it’s going to take a big drop from Brinegar to make his second Olympic team.

The Redshirts

Clark took the fall semester off from racing for Ohio State in the NCAA but returned for the second semester. He was far from the only swimmer to take an Olympic redshirt this season and notably for the NCAA distance landscape, both Will Gallant and David Johnston sat out the entire season. Instead of racing collegiately, they spent the year training together at The Swim Team alongside Brinegar.

Will that move pay off to the tune of an Olympic berth?

In 2020, Brinegar earned his 1500 free roster spot with a 15:00.87, 4.42 seconds ahead of Jordan Wilimovsky. While only four men in this field have broken 15 minutes before, Clark’s personal best of 14:50.84 makes us think that it’s going to take breaking 15 minutes to get second.

In terms of the Olympic redshirts, that gives Gallant the edge — he’s already broken that barrier. He did so at 2022 U.S. Nationals, dropping over 14 seconds and winning the race in 14:57.08. He hasn’t been back under since, though he neared the mark at 2023 U.S. Nationals, finishing third behind Finke and Clark in 15:02.63. Last year also broke a two year streak of Gallant going faster later in the season than at the selection meet.

Gallant’s been relatively quiet during his redshirt year. His season-best is 15:12.94 from 2023 Pan Ams and he’s only raced the event once in 2024 (a 15:48.18 at the Fran Crippen SMOC).

Johnston, his training partner, owns a 15:02.37 personal best, which is outside the OQT. He has also been quiet in the 1500 freestyle this season. He went to 2024 Worlds and raced the 400 freestyle, 800 freestyle, and 400 IM. Johnston’s gotten slower each time he’s swum the 1500 freestyle this season—his season best is a 15:08.46 from a November club meet and he’s climbed from there.

That could mean nothing, be chalked up to his training cycle, or it could speak to a shift in focus. In 2023, Johnston made his first senior international team in the 400 freestyle. That’s an event that’s arguably more up for grabs than this one where Finke has complete control over one of two roster spots. It may be that Johnston will choose to focus on the 400 freestyle over the 1500 free, though with this event on the last day of the meet he could use it as one last chance if the rest of the meet does not go as planned.

The Dark Horse

None of the top contenders in this field raced collegiately this season; they are either already pros or took the season off. But that doesn’t mean that it’s out of the question for an NCAA swimmer to knock off one of the top names.

On paper, it looks like the person with the best chance of doing just that is Daniel Matheson. He’s got the fastest personal best of the college crew and has excelled since transferring to ASU from USC. He reset his 1650 yard freestyle personal best three times this past season. He came in with a 14:48.21 which he lowered to 14:44.42 for an 11th place finish at NCAAs.

As he was busy with the collegiate season, Matheson hasn’t raced the 1500 free yet this season. He’s actually only officially raced the event six times in his career. From his first outing in 2019, he’s swum a personal best each time he’s raced the event. Over two years—from 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials to the 2023 TYR Pro Championships, the last time he raced the event—he hacked 28.14 seconds off his personal best, going from 15:30.09 to 15:01.95. That puts him less than a second from the Olympic Qualifying Time of 15:00.99.

It seems like he’s next in line to break the 15 minute barrier and it’s realistic to expect that to happen in Indianapolis. And a sub-15 minute swim would put him right in the mix for that second Olympic roster spot. We’ve gotten used to seeing the distance events come down to the closing meters at the Olympics and Worlds, and the same could be in store here.

Is It Too Early for These Junior Swimmers?

With the OQT sitting at 15:00.99 and Olympic Consideration Time swimmers unlikely to be selected due to World Aquatics’ recent update about roster quotas, it’s going to take a significant drop for any other swimmers to qualify for the Paris Games.

The top two U.S. swimmers in the 1650-yard freestyle field at NCAAs—Florida teammates Gio Linscheer and Andrew Taylor—own PBs of 15:25.91 and 15:38.83, respectively. Taylor made big drops in the 1650 freestyle this year as a freshman, which means that a drop in the big pool could certainly be coming, but it’s going to take something really special to get into the qualifying conversation. Alec Enyeart has been the fastest of the current NCAA swimmers, with a 15:05.10 from 2022 NCSAs. He hasn’t raced the 1500 freestyle this season, but was 15:12.71 last year. Levi Sandidge has been as fast as 15:09.75 at 2023 Nationals, which certainly puts him in the contention for the final.

If we’re talking about potential big drops, then we need to talk about some of the rising junior distance stars. One of the biggest names here is Luke Whitlock, who’s committed to join Linscheer and Taylor in Gainesville this fall.

Whitlock represented the U.S. at the 2023 World Junior Championships, finishing 5th in both the 400 and 800 freestyle. In the 1500 freestyle, he owns a personal best of 15:08.09, swum at the 2023 U.S. Open. It’s likely too soon in his career to expect him to break into the fight for a senior international roster spot, but he could still make things interesting in the final.

That goes for names like Luke Ellis and Nathan Szobota as well. Ellis holds a personal best of 15:17.92. Szobota sits a bit further back in 15:17.92. It took 15:22.61 to make the final in at the last Olympic Trials, so being right at their bests could mean that at least one of these juniors could sneak into the final.

SwimSwam Picks

Place Swimmer Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Bobby Finke 14:58.08 14:31.59
2 Charlie Clark 14:57.44 14:50.84
3 Daniel Matheson 15:01.95
4 Michael Brinegar 15.09.72 14:59.54
5 Will Gallant 15:12.94 14:57.08
6 Luke Whitlock 15:08.09 15:08.09
7 David Johnston 15:08.46 15:02.37
8 Levi Sandidge 15:28.71 15:09.75

Dark Horse: Luka Mijatovic — Speaking of junior swimmers making huge time drops, we can’t forget about Luka Mijatovic. Newly turned 15, Mijatovic has been turning heads over the last year for his speed and versatility. Like with the other junior swimmers, we’re probably a cycle away from his emergence as an Olympic contender. The 1500 freestyle isn’t his best event but he’s got a lifetime best of 15:26.73. It’s worth circling his name on the heat sheet to see what kind of swim he can put together fully tapered. And an Olympic Trial final–which he’s capable of–at 15 years old is an incredible achievement all on its own. 

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Dylan
29 days ago

Luke Whitlock just went 15:07.94 at the 2024 Indy May Cup.

Yannick Angel Martino Moravcova
29 days ago

To start, respect for any of these guys. By a Day 9 final, the USA team roster has essentially been picked and there are only 2 finals even left to contest. Many spectators may be mentally checked out. Will be interesting to see which second-place contenders can keep the psychological acuity up for the duration, knowing full well they are probably all vying for just 1 roster spot. Finke delivers to grab the win, but maybe not by as much of a margin as we’d think. 2nd place goes to a swimmer not yet on the team; I’ll vote for a slight wild card Gallant. –YAMM

Last edited 29 days ago by Yannick Angel Martino Moravcova
Octavio Gupta
29 days ago

Finke will win.

cheese
30 days ago

Not many veterans in this race. Looking at the OTs from 2021, there are only 14 competitors returning from that group: Finke, Brinegar, Gallant, Clark, Johnston, and Matheson, along with Tyler Watson, Josh Parent, Jack Hoagland, Owen Lloyd, Matthew Chai, Joshua Brown, Jake Narvid, and Jack VanDeusen.

Louisville 5th year Watson’s cut is from the Florida Senior Champs from July 2023 (15:33.39) and he hasn’t touched the event since. With a PB of 15:26.26 from 2021, he’s probably not making any huge comeback given his 1650 this season being over 40 seconds off his best from SECs in 2023.

Parent is only a freshman at FL and his distance has been solid, but a bit slower this season than last,… Read more »

Calswimboy
Reply to  cheese
13 days ago

If Owen Lloyd would qualify that would be great after his dumb DQ at ACCs

cheese
30 days ago

Not many veterans in this race. Looking at the OTs from 2021, there are only 14 competitors returning from that group: Finke, Brinegar, Gallant, Clark, Johnston, and Matheson, along with Tyler Watson, Josh Parent, Jack Hoagland, Owen Lloyd, Matthew Chai, Joshua Brown, Jake Narvid, and Jack VanDeusen.

Louisville 5th year Watson’s cut is from the Florida Senior Champs from July 2023 (15:33.39) and he hasn’t touched the event since. With a PB of 15:26.26 from 2021, he’s probably not making any huge comeback given his 1650 this season being over 40 seconds off his best from SECs in 2023.

Parent is only a freshman at FL and his distance has been solid, but a bit slower this season than… Read more »

Last edited 30 days ago by cheese
felix
Reply to  cheese
29 days ago

🥱

grandDist
Reply to  cheese
29 days ago

Chai, who is redshirting after a strong first season at Cal

I am sorry what?

SwimmerTX
Reply to  cheese
29 days ago

Is it confirmed that Chai is redshirting this year at Cal?

cheese
Reply to  SwimmerTX
29 days ago

Maybe I’m spreading false information, but he hasn’t competed for Cal since spring of 2023 and his LinkedIn page states that he’s graduating in 2027, not 2026. I assume that means he redshirted this year.

Comet16
30 days ago

I am going to go with the heavy favorite Finke and the young dark horse Whitlock to have a huge drop and make the team. If it’s too early for him then he definitely will in 28.

I miss the ISL (go dawgs)
30 days ago

SS comment section will explode if Mijatovic is even in the race. Not even if he gets 2nd, if he is top 5 everyone will freak out and I will love to see it!

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
30 days ago

Semi Off Topic:

Will any future Olympians be attending the CA NOVA Speedo Grand Challenge scheduled May 24, 2024 – May 26, 2024?

Helk bengur
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
30 days ago

Uva

Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
Reply to  Helk bengur
30 days ago

NCAP Elite Qualifier scheduled May 31, 2024 – Jun 2, 2024.

Chucky
Reply to  Helk bengur
30 days ago

NO. UVA is going to NCAP hosted meet following weekend.

Geez
Reply to  Weinstein-Smith-Ledecky-Sims
30 days ago

Sandpipers, ASU

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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