Tokyo 2020 Olympic Swimming Preview: A 3-Way Battle Brewing in the Men’s 1500

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2020 TOKYO SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

Men’s 1500 freestyle

  • World Record: Sun Yang (CHN) – 14:31.02 (2012)
  • Olympic Record: Sun Yang (CHN) – 14:31.02 (2012)
  • World Junior Record: Franko Grgic (CRO) – 14:46.09 (2019)
  • 2016 Olympic Champion: Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) – 14:34.57

There are a lot of moving parts in the men’s 1500 at these Olympic Games. First and foremost, Italian distance superstar Gregorio Paltrinieri is coming off a mononucleosis diagnosis in mid-to-late June, which kept him out of the Sette Colli Trophy. Paltrinieri has, largely speaking, been the top men’s distance swimmer in the world over the past 5 years. Coming in with at 14:33.10, Paltrinieri is the 2nd-fastest swimmer of all-time in the event, behind only China’s Sun Yang. Paltrinieri is also the reigning Olympic Champion, having won the 2016 Rio Olympics in 14:34.57, which is the 6th-fastest performance of all-time.

Here is the list of all-time top 10 performances in the men’s LCM 1500 freestyle:

Men 1500 Freestyle
Rank Time Name Team Meet Name Meet City Meet Country Date
1 14:31.02 SUN Yang CHN Olympic Games London 2012 London GBR 04/08/2012
2 14:33.10 PALTRINIERI Gregorio ITA 57th Sette Colli Rome ITA 13/08/2020
3 14:34.04 PALTRINIERI Gregorio ITA European Championships 2016 London GBR 18/05/2016
4 14:34.14 SUN Yang CHN 14th FINA World Championships 2011 Shanghai CHN 31/07/2011
5 14:34.56 HACKETT Grant AUS 9th FINA World Championships 2001 Fukuoka JPN 29/07/2001
6 14:34.57 PALTRINIERI Gregorio ITA Olympic Games Rio 2016 Rio de Janeiro BRA 13/08/2016
7 14:35.43 SUN Yang CHN 16th Asian Games 2010 Guangzhou CHN 18/11/2010
8 14:35.85 PALTRINIERI Gregorio ITA 17th FINA World Championships 2017 Budapest HUN 30/07/2017
9 14:36.15 WELLBROCK Florian GER European Championships 2018 Glasgow GBR 05/08/2018
10 14:36.45 WELLBROCK Florian GER German Trials 2021 Berlin GER 18/04/2021

As you can see, Paltrinieri holds 4 of the 10 fastest times ever, the most out top 10 performances of any swimmer. Paltrinieri was, and may still be, the likely favorite heading into this meet, but we simply don’t know how his bout with mono may have effected his training and his energy levels. Paltrinieri was reportedly dealing with mild mono symptoms, but even mild mono cases present the possibility of long-term fatigue, which is extremely relevant for someone who is slated to race the 800 free, 1500 free, and 10k open water in Tokyo. What we now as of now is that Paltrinieri has said he’s feeling well, and that he intends to follow through with racing all 3 of his events in Tokyo, so we’ll have to take him at his word, bearing in mind that his situation could change.

Adding to his resumé, Paltrinieri has been under 14:40 in the 1500 a whopping 8 times in his career, which is 4 more sub-14:40 performances than any other swimmer has achieved in their careers. This year, he’s been as fast as 14:42.91, which he swam at the European Championships in May.

The next-fastest personal best in this field belongs to Germany’s Florian Wellbrock, who has swum quite well in the 1500 in 2021. Wellbrock is the 4th-fastest swimmer of all-time in the event, holding the 9th, 10th, and 11th fastest times in history. Impressively, Wellbrock has swum 14:36 in the 1500 3 times – once in 2018, once in 2019, and once in 2021. His personal best of 14:36.15 was swum at the 2018 European Championships, where he won Gold.

Wellbrock has posted the fastest time in the world this year (14:36.45) by over 3 seconds. Wellbrock is also the reigning World Champion, having taken the 2019 World Championships in 14:36.54, beating out Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk and Paltrinieri. At the 2019 World Championships, Wellbrock also won the 10k open water Gold medal.

Ramanchuk is the next-fastest, in terms of personal bests. He enters the meet with a top mark of 14:36.88, which he swam back in 2018. Romanchuk has also been under 14:40 already this year, having clocked a 14:39.89 for Gold at the European Championships. Also going for Romanchuk is that he’s the only swimmer out of the top 3 (Wellbrock, Paltrinieri, Romanchuk) who isn’t slated to race open water in Tokyo.

Norway’s Henrik Christiansen has the 4th-fastest personal best in the field – 14:45.35, but he hasn’t been near that time since swimming it in 2019. Christiansen didn’t race the 1500 in 2020, and in 2020, he’s raced it 4 times. Of those 4 swims, the fastest was a 15:05 at European Championships in May. Most recently, he raced at the Sette Colli Trophy at the end of June, posting a 15:14. Christiansen will have to be significantly under his 2021 best in order to make the final.

The United States’ Bobby Finke, who has become a SCY distance superstar during his time at the University of Florida, enters the fray with a personal best of 14:46.06 from the U.S. Trials. Finke has proven to be incredibly consistent in his yards racing, so if he can match that consistency in his LCM 1500, he should have no problem making the final. At the 2016 Olympics, the USA earned a Silver medal thanks to Connor Jaeger‘s 14:39.48 American Record performance. For Finke to win a medal for the US, it will most likely take a sub-14:40 performance. As the fastest SCY 1650 swimmer in history, that’s not totally out of the question, although it would take a truly massive performance from Finke to do so.

Great Britiain’s Daniel Jervis has a lifetime best of 14:46.51, from the 2019 British Nationals. Since that swim, he hasn’t been under 14:50, but clocked a 14:51.49 at Britian’s Olympic Trials in April of this year. Jervis won the race at British Trials by a full 10 seconds, so it’s possible he left a little something in the tank. Regardless, a repeat of his Trials performance should be sufficient to earn himself a lane in the final in Tokyo. Like Finke, Jervis’ medal hopes are most likely predicated on his ability to get down to the 14:40 mark.

Australia’s Jack McLoughlin has been as fast as 14:47.09 at the 2018 Commonwelath Games. He’s been the top Aussie miler for the last several years, but he hasn’t been under 14:50 again since his Commonwealth Games performance in 2018. Another important note on McLoughlin is that for the last several years, his best performances have come at Australian Nationals. For example, he swam a 14:52 at the 2019 Australian National meet, then swam a 15:04 at the 2019 World Champs 6 weeks later.

Italy’s 2nd qualifier, Domenico Acerenza, swam a 14:49.98 at the Italian Trials to earn his spot on the team. Acerenza also made the Italian team for 2019 Worlds in the 1500, where he ultimately finished 6th in finals. Expect Acerenza to be around his qualifying time, and to earn a lane in the final.

Germany’s 2nd swimmer, Lukas Märtens, 19, has burst onto the scene in the last 2 years. He swam a 14:49.26 in April of this year, which stands as his personal best. He was slower a week later at German Trials, 15:05, but that 14:49 makes him a very interesting swimmer in this field. At such a young age compared to the rest of the field, Märtens could be primed for a big drop in Tokyo.

Denmark’s Alexander Norgaard has a personal best of 14:47.75, which he swam in prelims of the 2019 World Champs. In finals, he swam a 15:20, finishing 8th. Since his 14:47, the fastest Norgaard has gone is 14:54.11, which he swam in April of this year. Like many of the other swimmers in this field, if Norgaard can get back to his top form, he’ll be competitive in this final, however, if he’s not on in prelims, he could easily find himself outside the top 8.

Croatia’s Franko Grgic, the elephant absent from the room, isn’t entered in the Tokyo Olympics. Grgic made massive waves two years ago, when at the age of just 16, he posted a jaw-dropping 14:46.06. We haven’t seen a whole lot of Grgic since then, and he appears not to have raced since March of this year.

TOP PERFORMANCES IN 2016-2021 OLYMPIC CYCLE (1 PER PERSON)

  1. Gregorio Paltrinieri, ITA – 14:33.10 (2020)
  2. Florian Wellbrock, GER – 14:36.15 (2018)
  3. Mykhailo Romanchuk, UKR – 14:36.88 (2018)
  4. David Aubry, FRA – 14:44.72 (2017)
  5. Henrik Christiansen, NOR – 14:45.35 (2019)
  6. Bobby Finke, USA – 14:46.06 (2021)
  7. Franko Grgic, CRO – 14:46.09 (2019)
  8. Daniel Jervis, GBR – 14:46.51 (2019)
  9. Jordan Wilimovsky, USA – 14:46.93 (2018)
  10. Jack McLoughlin, AUS – 14:47.09 (2018)

SWIMSWAM’S TOP 8 PICKS

PLACE SWIMMER COUNTRY BEST TIME SINCE 2016 OLYMPICS
1 Florian Wellbrock GER 14:36.15
2 Mykhailo Romanchuk UKR 14:36.88
3 Gregorio Paltrinieri ITA 14:33.10
4 Bobby Finke USA 14:46.06
5 Daniel Jervis GBR 14:46.51
6 Domenico Acerenza ITA 14:49.98
7 Lukas Märtens GER 14:49.26
8 Jack McLoughlin AUS 14:47.09

Dark Horse – Guilherme Costa (BRA): Costa is the Brazilian record-holder in the 1500, with his personal best of 14:55.49, which he swam at the 2019 U.S. Winter Nationals, in December of 2019. In 2020, Costa swam the 1500 once, clocking a 15:21.10 at the Brazil Trophy in December. It seems as though Costa simply wasn’t back in 1500 shape after the Coronavirus pandemic training interruptions at that point, because 4 months later (April 2021), he swam a 14:59.21 at Brazil’s Olympic Trials. It’s overwhelmingly likely that it will take under 15:00 to make it into Olympic final, and it’s even possible it will take under 14:50, given this field. However, if Costa can be at his best in prelims, it’s extremely plausible he could make it into the top 8. Costa making the final would be significant, as he would be both the first Brazilian and the first South American swimmers to make either an Olympic or World Championships final in the men’s LCM 1500 since the 1998 World Championships. 

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ACC
2 months ago

Super excited to watch the first and last 4 minutes of this race.

Riccardo
Reply to  ACC
2 months ago

It’s even worse now that they aren’t even uploading the full race videos to youtube like they did in 2012. Who knows if we will ever see the full 1500 again as long as NBC has the rights.

HoosierEli
Reply to  Riccardo
2 months ago

It’s interesting (ok, irritating) to me that we can watch a full half of soccer (45+ minutes with stoppage time) without commercials, yet we can’t even watch an 8 minute race (800 free USA Olympic Trials race) without 3 minutes of commercials (albeit side-by-side).

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  HoosierEli
2 months ago

yeah, real irritating actually

Torchbearer
Reply to  HoosierEli
2 months ago

Or a prerecorded interview with the coach/ parents/ girlfriend playing over the top of the middle of the race, because apparently we dont have an attention span to watch a 15 minute swimming race.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Riccardo
2 months ago

Use a VPN to get Canadian (CBC) or Australian or other coverage where you will not only get the IOC / FINA feed, but likely also Nicole Livingstone & Bruce McEvany – the legendary announcers – as well.

Stephen
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
2 months ago

It’s Leisel Jones actually

Stephen
Reply to  Coach Mike 1952
2 months ago

Get a Fire Stick, VPN and download the 7plus app.

Filip Chrápavý
2 months ago

Does anyone know why Grgic is not swimming at Olympics? (he was in Croation nomination)

Lol
2 months ago

Henrik Christiansen will final

Sam B
2 months ago

“Romanchuk …. having clocked a 14:39.89 for Silver at the European Championships. “
It was for GOLD
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swimming_at_the_2020_European_Aquatics_Championships_%E2%80%93_Men%27s_1500_metre_freestyle

commonwombat
2 months ago

Maybe the easiest podium selection of the entire program as the top 3 are currently at least one level above everyone else. Happy to go along with:

  1. Wellbrock 2. Romanchuk 3. Paltinieri
Chad
Reply to  commonwombat
2 months ago

GP getting sick is the only thing that might get in the way of this

DJTrockstoYMCA
2 months ago

Boring for the Americans

Joel
2 months ago

Hackett was way before his time.

Drewbrewsbeer
Reply to  Joel
2 months ago

Without Hackett swimming wouldn’t be where it is today.

TerryO
Reply to  Drewbrewsbeer
2 months ago

And Thorpe, in 800 free their PBs still brutally good, and Thrope 400 free would be win today easily.

Gambler
2 months ago

Bovada Odds To Win Gold

Men’s 1500 Free

Wellbrock +125

Romanchuk +175

Paltinieri +275

I guess I’ll take Romanchuk.

Is it pretty much a lock that these three will be on the podium? Is it worth it to dumpster dive with anyone else for a podium bet? Maybe Jervis or Martens could bump Palt?

Last edited 2 months ago by Gambler