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Olympic swimming champion Bobby Finke meets his namesake

After winning gold medals in the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyle races, the Clearwater native meets a rescued seahorse named after him.
After winning the gold medal in the 800m and 1500m freestyle, Clearwater native Bobby Finke returned home to visit with friends, family, fans, and even a seahorse who shares his name.
After winning the gold medal in the 800m and 1500m freestyle, Clearwater native Bobby Finke returned home to visit with friends, family, fans, and even a seahorse who shares his name. [ RACHEL WEST | Times ]
Published Aug. 13
Updated Aug. 13

Humility and a strong work ethic are the two qualities most often mentioned when friends and family talk about U.S. Olympic swimmer Bobby Finke.

“It’s not all about Bobby, and he’s just a big 21-year-old kid,” said Countryside High School swim coach Scott Hernon.

“You wouldn’t know just by looking at him and how he acts that he’s so successful in everything he does,” said Abby Licht, a high school teammate of Finke’s.

Not surprisingly, the Olympic gold medalist deflects all the credit for his personality, attitude and dedication to swimming.

“I didn’t get any of it myself, it was all from (friends, coaches, family). Just watching my two older sisters — I watched them the whole time growing up — I learned from them a lot of the time, so it was nothing to do with me, it was all them,” said Finke.

Regardless of where those characteristics have come from, they certainly have served him well on his climb to the top of the podium in Tokyo. And the only thing better than standing up there after winning a gold medal is winning two gold medals. Finke took the top spot in both the 800-meter and 1,500-meter freestyle races.

“I can’t really put it into words,” Finke said. “The mile was the second event, and it’s my baby event, it’s my best one, so winning the medal in that one meant a lot to me and my coaches.”

Related: Gold medalist Bobby Finke reflects on ‘emotional’ first Olympics

Whereas the first-place finish in comeback fashion in the 800 free came as a complete shock to Finke’s dad, Joe, there was a point in the 1,500 free that he knew his son was going to have a good shot at bringing home the gold yet again.

“The longer he stuck around with the top two guys, I don’t want to say they made a mistake, but I knew if it came down to the last 50, he already showed what he could do (in the 800 free).”

At times, the Clearwater native and Countryside High alumnus can’t even wrap his own mind around now being the world champion in both races. But he continues to credit everyone from back home who has played a role in his career.

On Tuesday, that same support system showed up for Finke at the Countryside Country Club pool, where kids from the Tampa Bay Aquatic Club (TPAC) and current Countryside High swimmers got to meet the gold medalist.

“To see more and more kids come out to see an idol and to see somebody do as well as Bobby is just amazing,” Heron said. “I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”

Related: Spotlight finds Clearwater swimmer Bobby Finke as Tokyo Olympics approach

TPAC coach Sue Curnutte echoed those same feelings.

“It’s definitely an inspiration. It’s somebody who’s here in the community, somebody that’s close to home who’s gone through what they are going through.”

Finke has been honored at a variety of welcome-home events this week. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) named a rescued seahorse after the new Olympic champion. Thursday morning, Bobby the swimmer met Bobby the seahorse.

“I heard they die from exhaustion, so it’s a little bit of the opposite of what I do,” Finke said, “but it’s just an honor to have something named after you.”

While at CMA, Finke also spent some time with the bottlenose dolphins.

As for what’s next for the two-time gold medalist, he’ll return to the University of Florida for his senior year next week. And come 2024, he’ll be looking to defend his gold medals in Paris.