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July 29 Report: Finke goes from fourth to first to win gold in 800 freestyle

By Andrew Kurland, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication | July 29, 2021, 2:47 p.m. (ET)

U.S. swimmer Bobby Finke celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 800-meter freestyle at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The Games are full of surprises. Every four years (and sometimes five) the best in the world find ways to push their performances to the edge. 

Bobby Finke (Florida, swimming) found himself fourth with 50 meters to go in the men’s 800-meter freestyle. The event is one of the new races debuting in this Olympics, and it was about to see another first. 

Finke put on a hard charge in the last pool length, passing the German, Ukrainian and Italian swimmers in a spectacular late-race kick to the finish. 

The gold medal performance surprised many people, including Finke.

“The best time I had going in (before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games) was 7:47, and prelims I dropped down to 7:42 and here (in the final) I dropped another second,” Finke said. “I had no idea I was going to do that.”

Finke officially clocked in at 7:41.87, with his final 50-meter sprint an entire 2.2 seconds faster than any other of his splits in the race. 

“I noticed 10 meters out I was catching up a little bit of ground and that was the only motivation I needed to try and pass and get my hand to the wall first,” Finke said. 

Team USA had plenty to celebrate at the Tokyo aquatics center. With Finke’s gold, the U.S. swimmers also scored silver in the women’s 4x200, silver and bronze with Regan Smith (Stanford, swimming) and Hali Flickinger (Georgia, swimming) rounding out the women’s 100-meter butterfly, and gold with Caeleb Dressel’s (Florida, swimming) Olympic record in the men’s 100-meter freestyle. 

Dressel’s gold came with emotion, as it gave the 24-year-old his first individual Olympic gold medal.

"It means a lot. I knew that weight was on my shoulders. I'd won (Olympic) relay medals but never individual, so it was really special," Dressel said. 

The swimmers have three more days of medal events left in the 2020 Games, with the final race set to run Sunday. 

Tokyo talk

U.S. gymnast Sunisa Lee (Auburn, gymnastics) took home gold in women’s all-around gymnastics. The 18-year-old finished with a final score of 57.433, edging out Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade. The victory marked Lee’s first career Olympic gold. 

The duo of Kelly Claes (USC, volleyball) and Sarah Sponcil (Loyola Marymount, volleyball; UCLA, volleyball) defeated Kenya in the preliminary round of women’s beach volleyball. The U.S. swept Kenya, winning in two sets. 

The U.S. women’s foil fencing team lost to Italy in the bronze medal match 45-23. The loss placed it fourth in the final standings. 

The U.S. women’s rugby team won both of its games, defeating China and Japan in pool play. The victories place the team in second place in its group, with semifinal play beginning Friday. 

Golfers Xander Schauffele (Long Beach State, golf; San Diego State, golf) and Patrick Reed (Georgia, golf; Augusta State, golf) are tied for 12th after the first round of men’s individual golf. Other U.S. notables include Collin Morikawa (California, golf) tied for 20th and Justin Thomas (Alabama, golf) tied for 41st. 

The U.S. women’s volleyball team defeated Turkey 3-2 in a preliminary round match. Jordan Thompson (Cincinnati, volleyball) led the team in scoring with 18 points. 

Looking ahead

Men’s and women’s track-and-field events are set to begin Friday at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium. Heat races for running events will start, including the first round of the mixed 4x400-meter relay, which will feature Allyson Felix’s first appearance in her fifth Olympic games. The first track-and-field medals will also be awarded, with the men's 10,000-meter final taking place Friday night. 

Quote of the day

“It doesn’t get better than this, right? Every swimmer dreams of going to the Olympics – and for this to finally happen to me – it is incredible and I certainly wouldn’t be here if not for my experiences at Auburn. I love my Auburn family and I’m so grateful for them.” – Annie Lazor (Auburn, swimming) after advancing to the women's 200-meter breaststroke final

Andrew Kurland, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Andrew Kurland is a journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a collaboration between the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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Bobby Finke