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Clearwater’s Bobby Finke makes U.S. Olympic swimming team

The former Countryside High star and current Florida Gator wins the 800-meter freestyle final to earn a trip to Tokyo.
Former Countryside High swimmer and current Florida Gator Bobby Finke at the medal ceremony after winning the men's 800-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic trials Thursday in Omaha, Neb.
Former Countryside High swimmer and current Florida Gator Bobby Finke at the medal ceremony after winning the men's 800-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic trials Thursday in Omaha, Neb. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]
Published Jun. 18
Updated Jun. 18

OMAHA, Neb. — Bobby Finke, a Clearwater native and former Countryside High swimmer, made his first U.S. Olympic team by winning the men’s 800-meter freestyle at the Olympic trials Thursday night.

Finke, who now swims for the Florida Gators, won the event that will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer by covering 16 laps in 7 minutes, 48.22 seconds, holding off runnerup Michael Brinegar (7:49.94).

Finke, 21, thanked his family in an interview with NBC immediately after the race.

Finke’s resume also includes the 2017 U.S. world championship team, three wins at the 2019 U.S. championships, All-America honors at Florida, four high school state championships and the 2017 Pinellas County swimmer of the year honors.

Finke was on the Olympic watch list last year before the Games were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After the 2020 NCAA championships were canceled because of the pandemic, he returned to his family’s Clearwater home. He spent a few days training at the North Shore Aquatic Complex in St. Petersburg before that shut down, then headed to a friend’s house, jumped off the dock and swam between sandbars in Tampa Bay.

“It’s a lot different,” Finke told the Tampa Bay Times then. “It’s pretty salty. It is what it is right now. It’s what we were dealt. We’ve just got to adapt to it.”

Earlier in the Olympic trials, Finke missed a spot on the team by finishing fourth in the 400 individual medley.

Former Gator Caeleb Dressel locked up his spot for Tokyo, where he’s expected to be one of the biggest stars in the pool. Dressel romped to victory in the men’s 100 free in 47.39 seconds.

“It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” said Dressel, from Green Cove Springs. “I’m excited to get the job done and move forward.”

In 2017, Dressel won seven gold medals at the world championships, joining Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to win that many races at a major international meet. Dressel followed up with six golds and two silvers at the 2019 championships, becoming the second swimmer after Phelps to take as many as eight medals.

Dressel isn’t expected to swim enough events in Tokyo to challenge Phelps’ record of eight golds from the 2008 Olympics.

Related: Take a look at Bobby Finke in the Tampa Bay Times wayback machine.

In a big surprise, Simone Manuel, the defending Olympic women’s champion in the 100 freestyle, failed to advance from the semifinals. In 2016, she tied for the gold to become the first Black female to win an individual swimming event.

Ryan Lochte, 36, advanced to the final of the men’s 200 individual medley, his only realistic chance to qualify for his fifth Olympics. Michael Andrew dominated the semifinals with a time of 1:55.26, fastest in the world this year. Lochte was the sixth-fastest qualifier at 1:58.65.

In the men’s 200 breaststroke, Nic Fink won to make the Olympics for the first time at age 27. Hali Flickinger won the 200 butterfly.

Fink failed to finish in the top two at either the 2012 or 2016 trials, and he had another heartbreak with a third-place showing in the 100 breaststroke this year.

Now, finally, he has his long-sought spot on the Olympic team.

“It’s something I can’t really describe,” Fink said. “Relief is only the beginning of what I’m feeling right now. It’s a long journey to come here. I’ve had so much support and help. I’m so grateful for this opportunity and to come back after getting third in the 100.”

Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.

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