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U.S. swimmer Bobby Finke comes from behind to win Olympic gold in 800-meter free

The American was in fifth place but roared ahead at the end to claim Olympic gold in the 800-meter freestyle.
Image: Robert Finke
Bobby Finke of the United States celebrates winning the men's 800-meter freestyle final at the Tokyo Olympics, on July 29, 2021.Matthias Schrader / AP

In fifth position for most of the race, U.S. swimmer Bobby Finke surged at the end to claim Olympic gold in the 800-meter freestyle Thursday.

The thrilling come-from-behind win at the Tokyo Games was the first Olympic medal for Finke in his first Olympic Games.

"I just really wanted to get my hand on the wall," Finke, 21, said after the race Thursday. "I'm just so happy I was able to switch into another gear."

Thursday's race was the Olympic debut for the event, which Finke finished in 7:41.87. That time set an American record.

The leader for most of the race, which is around a half-mile in length, was Italy's Gregorio Paltrinieri. He came in second and won silver.

Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine won the bronze.

Paltrinieri, the 2016 Olympic champion in the 1,500-meters, got out to a massive early lead, leading Finke by over two seconds at the 300-meter mark. That gap was down to just over a second at the 500, and under a second at the 600, but then back at nearly 1.5 seconds at the 700 — but it wouldn't prove enough to hold off Finke.

He was the lone American in the final. He's set to return to the pool later this week to represent the U.S. in the 1,500-meter race.

It was the second time in as many days that a U.S. swimmer won gold in an event that appeared at the Olympics for the first time.

On Wednesday, Katie Ledecky finished first in the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle race, a race that's a fixture in world championships but was available to women in the Olympics for the first time at Tokyo.

"It means a lot," Finke said. "Coming into this, there was a lot of doubt behind American distance. I'm happy to try and get a medal on the board for the team. I'm just really excited."