STANFORD, Calif. – Bobby Finke survived the Great Scooter Accident of 2019 without any lasting damage.
Ten weeks after breaking a bone in his left wrist and suffering a concussion – and two weeks after he was cleared to swim without wearing a brace – Finke became the first athlete at the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships to win two titles.
He added a victory in the 400-meter individual medley Friday to the 1,500-meter freestyle title he won Wednesday night at the meet, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
Finke proved he’s in his element in the water.
“We’ve got to stay off the land,” he said with a laugh.
Finke, 19, held off the Foster brothers, Carson, 17, and Jake, 18. Carson set a junior world record and will compete at the upcoming junior world championships.
“It really gave me a confidence booster,” said Finke. “I really wanted to do well, and racing those other guys in the field it was amazing. Especially Carson and Jake. I haven’t been for here for long, but I don’t remember the last time two brothers were on the podium, especially at that age. It’s just incredible.
Finke’s time of 4 minutes, 13.15 seconds makes him the ninth-best performer this year. It would have been good enough for fourth at the recent world championships and was well under his previous personal best of 4:15.79. Carson, came in at 4:13.39 and Jake was next at 4:15.03.
Jay Litherland, who took silver at worlds, and Chase Kalisz, the 2017 world champion and the other competitor for Team USA in Gwangju, South Korea, were not in the field.
Finke came dangerously close to ending his season on May 24, when he lost control of his scooter coming out of a turn, hit a drain at a bad angle and crashed near the weight room at the University of Florida.
Actually, he’s not quite sure what happened.
“It was a weird accident, honestly,” Finke said.
He was forced to wear a waterproof brace on his left forearm for eight weeks.
“It was really hard to swim with that brace on,” said Finke, who got better at it as time went on.
However, he thinks the ordeal made him stronger. “I was doing every practice with it,” he said. “It really slowed me down, so I really just think it helped me mentally: ‘If I can get through this, I can get through a lot of things.’”
On his last day of wearing the brace at practice, Finke ended up breaking it, so it was good he didn’t need it anymore.
What Finke needed was a win in his first event, the 1,500-meter freestyle, after two straight runner-up finishes at previous nationals.
“I really just did not want to get second again,” he said. “I really just wanted that gold medal.”
Finke won the 1,500 free with a time of 14:51.15, defeating rival Zane Grothe by almost five seconds (14:51.15).
Last year, Grothe was faster than Finke in the preliminaries of the 1,500 at the Pan Pacific Championships, knocking him out of a second world championships berth. In 2017, he placed 21st in the 1,500 free at worlds.
“I definitely missed it,” he said, noting that it hurts, “making it one year and not making it the next year, but I just didn’t make it and I had to accept that.”
Jordan Wilimovsky was the other swimmer for Team USA in Gwangju, South Korea.
“What separated us was three-tenths of a second,” Finke said of Grothe. “I really hope it doesn’t come down to that, because that’s just going to be a grueling race at the end.”
While Finke feels his best chance at making the U.S. Olympic team for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 is in the 1,500, the 400 IM allowed him to show his versatility.
“It’s much shorter, so there’s a lot more sprinting involved in the 400 IM, which is something I’m not too good at at all,” he said with a laugh, “so I really just try to focus on that last 100 freestyle leg because I know everybody else is going to be really tired.”
Carson Foster, the junior Pan Pacs champion in the event, went out fast as Finke was seventh at 100 meters. However, Finke moved up to second after one length of the pool in backstroke.
Carson Foster remained in the lead through 350 meters. Then in a final burst, Finke clocked 28.19 on the final stretch, overtaking Foster in the final 25 meters to win.
“That was insane,” Finke said. “I’m really proud of him. He’s a great competitor. We were neck and neck toward the end.
“I just had to play to my strengths and that’s in the freestyle.”
It’s obviously not on a scooter. Although Florida coach Gregg Troy has advised him to stay off them, Finke is still riding.
“It’s my only mode of transportation right now,” he said, “so I’ve got to keep going.”