Florida Gator Bobby Finke wins gold medal at Tokyo Olympics in 800-meter freestyle

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Robert Finke, of the United States, celebrates after winning the men's 800-meters freestyle final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Thursday, July 29, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

TOKYO — Florida senior Bobby Finke captured the gold medal in the Olympic men's 800-meter freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

Finke, 21, came from behind to finish first in (7:41.87) in the first-ever men’s 800-meter freestyle at the Olympics, rallying in the last lap to beat Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri (7:42.11). The Ukraine's Mykhailo Romanchuk was third (7:42.33).

It was a thrilling finish. Germany’s Florian Wellbrock grabbed the lead from Paltrinieri on the final flip, with Finke lurking back in fourth. But the American turned on a dazzling burst of speed at the end of the 16-lap race, passing all three swimmers ahead of him to take the gold.

“I had no idea I was going to do that,” Finke said. “I noticed with 10 meters off (the final turn) I was catching a little bit of ground, and that was the only motivation I needed.

“Your mind just kind of disappears and you're blocking it out at the end.”

More Gator gold:Green Cove Springs' Caeleb Dressel wins gold in Olympic 100 free swimming

Gators medal:Kieran Smith, Natalie Hinds win bronze in swimming finals at Tokyo Olympics

More from Tokyo:Kieran Smith-led U.S. finishes fourth in 4x200 freestyle relay

Finke’s winning time was 7 minutes, 41.87 seconds, just 0.24 ahead of Paltrinieri. Romachuk finished in 7:42.33, knocking Wellbrock back to fourth.

"I just really wanted to get my hand on the wall," Finke said. "I was able to switch into another gear."

The gold is the first for an American male swimmer in an Olympic distance race since 1984.

The men’s 800 freestyle was added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games, marking the first time that approximate distance was contested by the men since there was an 880-yard race at the 1904 St. Louis Games.

Finke, from Clearwater, was the No. 3 qualifier out of the heats while setting an American record in a blistering 7:42.72.

He will next compete in the 1,500 free heats Friday.

UF now leads U.S. colleges with eight medals, four coming in the pool (Caeleb Dressel, 2 golds, and Kieran Smith, bronze).