Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars: Men’s 800 Free

In our new series, Roadmaps – Mapping the Journey of US Swimming Stars, we will explore how modern-day Olympians climbed their way to the top, starting from as early as 8 years old all the way to their elite level today.

The 2021 Olympic Games will include the men’s 800 free for the first time in the swimming event schedule. Roughly one year from now in Omaha, the first two U.S. men’s 800 free Olympians will be determined. So, let’s get to know the top 8 U.S. contenders in the men’s 800 free and discover who has the best shot at making U.S. Olympic history. Topping the list is 2018 Pan Pacs event champion Zane Grothe, followed by fellow sub-7:50 swimmers open water World champion Jordan Wilimovsky and triple 2019 U.S. National champion Bobby Finke. Behind them are NCAA distance studs Cal’s Nick Norman, UGA’s Andrew Abruzzo, IU’s Michael Brinegar, NC State’s Ross Dant and incoming Michigan freshman Jake Mitchell, all well under the 8:00-barrier.

Top 8 US Men’s 800 FR LCM Times Since 2018

Rank Swimmer Time Meet
1 Zane Grothe 7:43.74 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
2 Jordan Wilimovsky 7:45.19 2018 Pan Pacific Championships
3 Bobby Finke 7:47.58 2019 U.S. Nationals
4 Nick Norman 7:54.47 2018 U.S. Nationals
5 Andrew Abruzzo 7:54.51 2018 Pro Swim Series – Atlanta
6 Michael Brinegar 7:54.56 2019 U.S. Nationals
7 Jake Mitchell 7:54.70 2019 World Junior Championships
8 Ross Dant 7:56.03 2019 U.S. Nationals

*Logan Houck (7:54.80) has not swum the 800-meter free since 2018 U.S. Nationals.

Historically-Fast Age Groupers

At 12 years old, Bobby Finke hit an impressive 9:07.07 in the 800-meter free, which ranks 24th in the all-time 11-12 age group rankings. At the same age, Andrew Abruzzo reached an equally impressive 9:15.62, ranking 57th on the same historical list. From here, Finke and Abruzzo skyrocketed and became one of the fastest age group distance swimmers in history. At 14 years old, Abruzzo put up a 8:15.84, the 3rd-fastest time in 13-14 age group history. Hitting a top-10 all-time 13-14 swim as well was Michael Brinegar, who ranks 7th all-time at 8:17.56. Finke also swam a sub-8:20 time in that age group, clocking in a #11 8:19.87.

Both Finke and Abruzzo went on to become one of five 16&U swimmers to break 8 minutes in the 800-meter free. Finke is currently the 2nd-fastest 15-16 performer in the 800 free at 7:55.16, with Abruzzo ranking 4th at 7:59.76. Brinegar just missed the barrier at 8:04.70, which ranks 18th all-time in that age group. A few years later, Ross Dant put up an 8:02.90, ranking him 11th all-time in the 15-16 age group. In the 17-18 age group, Finke ranks 3rd all-time at 7:51.45, followed by #5 Abruzzo (7:54.51), #6 Jake Mitchell (7:54.70), #7 Dant (7:56.03), and #13 Brinegar (7:57.22). Also in the same age group, Zane Grothe and Jordan Wilimovsky had just reached the 8:10 barrier in the 800 free. Meanwhile, Nick Norman had reached 8:05.29 by age 17, but reached a plateau until age 21.

All-Time 13-14 Rankings: 800 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer Time
3 Andrew Abruzzo 8:15.84
7 Michael Brinegar 8:17.56
11 Bobby Finke 8:19.87

All-Time 15-16 Rankings: 800 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer Time
2 Bobby Finke 7:55.16
4 Andrew Abruzzo 7:59.76
11 Ross Dant 8:02.90
18 Michael Brinegar 8:04.70

All-Time 17-18 Rankings: 800 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer Time
3 Bobby Finke 7:51.45
5 Andrew Abruzzo 7:54.51
6 Jake Mitchell 7:54.70
7 Ross Dant 7:56.03
13 Michael Brinegar 7:57.22

The Road to International Success

In 2017, teen Andrew Abruzzo became the 800 free World junior champion at 7:54.58, with Michael Brinegar finishing in bronze at 7:57.22. At the same time, 17-year-old Bobby Finke swam at the 2017 World Championships, placing 21st in the 1500 free. At the 2018 U.S. Nationals, however, veterans Zane Grothe and Jordan Wilimovsky were the top two heading to the 2019 World Championships, posting the only two sub-7:50 swims in the event. At the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, Grothe and Wilimovsky once again went 1-2 in the 800 free. Finke was alongside Grothe and Wilimovsky, finishing third at both meets.

Taking fourth at 2018 Nationals and qualifying for the 2019 World University Games was Cal’s Nick Norman, who took home a silver medal in the event. Abruzzo finished in 10th at the 2018 Nationals meet, however, was added to the 2019 Pan American Games roster just three months before the meet. There, Abruzzo won gold in the 800 free at another 7:54 time.

The 2019 U.S. Nationals final, however, may have foreshadowed a “changing of the guard” heading towards the 2021 Olympic Trials. During the final, Zane Grothe was holding the slight lead until Bobby Finke made his move at the 500-meter mark, ultimately passing Grothe with 100 meters to go. Finke went on to smash the 7:50-barrier at 7:47.58, easily the fastest American time in 2019. Grothe settled for second place at 7:50.47 while Michael Brinegar snagged third place at 7:54.56. Finishing in fifth behind Aussie Elijah Winnington was teen Ross Dant, who clocked in his lifetime best of 7:56.03. That time would have put him on the 2019-2020 national team roster, until Jake Mitchell bested his 2019 Nats time of 7:59.15 with a 7:54.70 from the 2019 World Junior Championships.

All-Time US Rankings: 800 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer Time
2 Zane Grothe 7:43.74
4 Jordan Wilimovsky 7:45.19
8 Bobby Finke 7:47.58
17 Nick Norman 7:54.47
18 Andrew Abruzzo 7:54.51
19 Michael Brinegar 7:54.56
20 Jake Mitchell 7:54.70
Ross Dant 7:56.03

The Future of the US Men’s 800 Free

Only three American men have swum under 7:50 in the 800 free this Olympic cycle: Zane Grothe (7:43.74), Jordan Wilimovsky (7:45.19), and Bobby Finke (7:47.58). At the 2018 US Nationals, Grothe, Wilimovsky, and Finke finished 1-2-3 in the event, all separated by 3 seconds. A year later, with an absent Wilimovsky, Finke had topped Grothe by nearly 3 seconds. So far this 2019-2020 season, Wilimovsky has the top American time at 7:49.76, which ranks 8th in the world. Grothe’s season best of 7:51.53 ranks 11th in the world, followed by Finke’s 7:51.66 from August 2020. The next fastest American this season is Nick Norman (7:56.30), swimming just two seconds off his #4 time this Olympic cycle of 7:54.47.

At the 2019 World Championships, it took a 7:42.08 to earn a medal in the 800 free final. During the event preliminaries, Zane Grothe placed 11th at 7:50.14 while Jordan Wilimovsky placed 16th at 7:53.11, both 6 seconds off their times from 2018 nationals. Bobby Finke swam only at the 2019 US Nationals that summer, winning the national title at 7:47.58. That time would have snuck Finke into the World final, but would have placed bottom two if he swam the final. Predicting the 2021 US Olympic Trials final outcome, Wilimovsky, Grothe, and Finke would all be expected to fend for the top 2 spots to Tokyo. The rest of the top 8 swimmers in this event since 2018 have not surpassed the 7:54-barrier: Nick Norman (7:54.47), Andrew Abruzzo (7:54.51), Michael Brinegar (7:54.56), Jake Mitchell (7:54.70), and Ross Dant (7:56.03).

Single Age Progression: US Men’s 800 FR LCM (Ages 11-26)

Name 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26
Zane Grothe 9:31.36 8:48.76 8:28.99 8:16.26 8:09.99 8:48.76 8:06.53 7:56.16 8:32.00 8:04.61 7:51.58 7:50.97 7:43.74
Jordan Wilimovsky 9:36.35 9:29.88 8:34.72 8:22.77 8:10.59 8:08.40 8:02.27 7:59.72 7:58.88 7:58.10 7:45.19
Bobby Finke 9:16.97 9:07.07 8:35.22 8:19.87 8:12.55 7:55.16 7:59.31 7:51.45 7:47.58
Nick Norman 9:50.46 9:11.51 8:25.45 8:23.64 8:10.47 8:05.29 8:06.89 8:10.28 8:14.75 7:54.47 7:56.30
Andrew Abruzzo 9:15.62 8:46.75 8:15.84 8:11.77 7:59.76 7:54.58 7:54.51 7:54.70
Michael Brinegar 8:37.21 8:17.56 8:15.10 8:04.70 7:57.22 7:58.79 7:54.56
Jake Mitchell 8:40.38 8:23.61 8:08.87 7:54.70
Ross Dant 11:07.91 10:24.20 9:04.27 8:32.67 8:14.15 8:02.90 8:00.51 7:56.03

 

2016-2021 Olympic Cycle: International Men’s 800 FR LCM

Rank Swimmer Country Time Meet
1 Gregorio Paltrinieri ITA 7:39.27 2019 World Championships
2 Gabriele Detti ITA 7:40.77 2017 World Championships
3 Henrik Christiansen NOR 7:41.28 2019 World Championships
4 Wojciech Wojdak POL 7:41.73 2017 World Championships
5 David Aubry FRA 7:42.08 2019 World Championships
6 Mykhailo Romanchuk UKR 7:42.49 2019 Swim Open Stockholm
7 Jack McLoughlin AUS 7:42.64 2019 World Championships
8 Florian Wellbrock GER 7:43.03 2019 Swim Open Stockholm

Single Age Progression: International Men’s 800 FR LCM (Ages 11-24)

Swimmer Country 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
Gregorio Paltrinieri ITA 8:30.78 8:17.93 8:01.31 7:51.97 7:48.22 7:43.01 7:40.81 7:42.33 7:42.44 7:45.12 7:39.27
Gabriele Detti ITA 8:32.17 8:16.95 8:00.22 7:56.16 7:48.43 7:42.74 7:49.91 7:43.06 7:40.77 7:43.83
Henrik Christiansen NOR 10:43.16 8:38.14 8:18.74 8:08.06 7:57.07 7:45.66 7:48.26 7:44.21 7:46.75 7:41.28
Wojciech Wojdak POL 9:37.74 9:08.82 8:44.32 8:30.49 8:25.89 8:01.28 7:57.48 7:45.90 7:56.62 7:41.73 7:56.83 7:50.64
David Aubry FRA 9:38.22 9:09.53 8:27.35 8:14.71 8:11.95 8:20.13 8:20.71 7:57.67 7:50.09 7:42.08
Mykhailo Romanchuk UKR 9:17.42 8:57.30 8:38.71 8:28.97 8:10.07 7:54.81 7:57.63 7:47.99 7:45.85 7:42.96 7:42.49
Jack McLoughlin AUS 8:56.70 8:25.21 8:02.27 7:57.76 7:55.97 7:53.51 7:47.31 7:42.64
Florian Wellbrock GER 9:42.74 9:08.81 8:35.17 8:29.92 8:10.21 7:55.30 7:50.89 7:45.60 7:43.03

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Khachaturian
2 months ago

I never knew that Zane Grothe was that old! Or Bobby Finke being that young!

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 months ago

The U.S. men did not qualify one individual in the final of the men’s 800 meter freestyle at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships. The U.S. men did not qualify one individual in the final of the men’s 1500 meter freestyle at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships.

Hoosier Eli
Reply to  Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
2 months ago

Yet at the 2017 FINA World Junior Championships the US went 1-3 in the 800 (Abruzzo, Brinegar) and 1-2 in the 1500 (Abruzzo, Brinegar) – while fellow 17 year old Bobby Finke was swimming at the 2017 World Championships in the 1500. Give the youngsters some time. Maybe not 2020(1), but 2024…

SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
Reply to  Hoosier Eli
2 months ago

I think Jake Mitchell and Ross Dant have as good a chance as Brinegar and Abruzzo. It’s hard to say. I do put Finke ahead of the other young up-and-comers.

ArtVanDeLegh10
Reply to  SAMUEL HUNTINGTON
2 months ago

Finke just went 14:12 in the mile at SECs so of course he should be ahead of not only the younger swimmers, possibly everyone.

Marklewis
Reply to  ArtVanDeLegh10
2 months ago

Yes, he’s swimming PBs and ARs in the distance free races, so I think he’s the favorite in my estimation.

Joe
2 months ago

Any thoughts why US men have been comparatively less dominant in distance freestyle than in other events? No American male has held a WR, or won Olympic/World gold in any of the 400/800/1500 free since George DiCarlo won a Salnikov-less 400 Olympic final in 1984!

My best guess is that the emphasis on SCY is hugely beneficial for the shorter races in terms of skill development, but not so much for the 400/800/1500.

Marklewis
Reply to  Joe
2 months ago

Australia produced some really great freestylers like
Perkins and Thorpe and Hackett. They dominated for many years.

After that Sun Yang had a period of dominance.

Conor Jaeger did swim a tremendous race to get silver in Rio in the 1500.

Smith-King-Dahlia-Manuel
Reply to  Joe
2 months ago

About Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro

Nick Pecoraro has had a huge passion for swimming since his first dive in the pool, instantly becoming drawn to the sport. He was a breaststroker and IMer when competing, but still uses the sport as his go-to cardio. SwimSwam has become an outlet for him to continue showing his …

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