ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Clearwater Olympian Bobby Finke entered the Tokyo Olympics with the 12th fastest qualifying time in the 800-meter freestyle, but he left the water with a most unexpected gold medal.
“Last night, what can I say? it was just unbelievable,” Bobby’s father, Joe Finke told ABC Action News sports anchor Kyle Burger.
Joe is running on a couple of hours of sleep. But it was worth it to watch his son have a furious surge from fourth place on the final lap passing all three swimmers ahead of him and taking the victory. His time of 7:41 was just 0.24 ahead of Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri.
“When he pushed off the wall in the last 50 meters he was in fourth place,” Joe said. “‘Fourth place is great. I am fine with fourth place.’ As he got further down the pool with 25 meters to go, he was catching up with those guys, oh my God. My wife, his mom, and his two older sisters were screaming and jumping up and down. It’s still a dream.”
It was a nerve-racking night for the family watching their son chase down the reigning world champion.
“The 800 is not his best event,” Joe said. “I think after trials he described it as a sprint and he hates sprinting. I guess we should’ve had more faith in him in the 800.”
Joe coaches at the North Shore Aquatics Complex in St. Petersburg, the same pool Bobby first started competitive swimming at six years old. The younger swimmers on the St. Petersburg Aquatics team all see Bobby as a shining example.
“It’s crazy what hard work gets you,” Maggie Johnson said. “It’s really crazy because he swims with us.”
“He is definitely a huge role model for everyone on the team, younger, older,” Callie Ott added. “Just watching him do it is really motivating.”
“I am excited to see where I will go,” Abigail Noga said. “Maybe end up like bobby one day in the Olympics.”
Finke has a chance to add to his Olympic medal collection with the 1500 meter freestyle qualifiers on Friday.