Bobby Finke talks about Olympic gold medals and swimming with surgical gloves

Bobby Finke In 2016, at the age of 16, he reached a final at the Olympic Trials for the first time. With two Olympic gold medals and two World Championship medals, the 23-year-old has taken the swimming world by storm. Earlier this week, Finke, a proud product of the University of Florida, took home multiple awards at the Golden Goggles – US swimming’s Oscars – including Male Athlete of the Year.

Finke reflected on his remarkable last two years, his experience in Tokyo, what he learned from his teammate Katie Ledecky and much more below.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Olympic Talk: What do your Golden Goggles nominations – Male Race of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year – mean to you?

Bobby Finke: I think I read somewhere that if I won the Athlete of the Year award I would be the first men’s distance swimmer, so I really hope to be honored and snatch that award, especially as a coach Antony Nesty and the University of Florida. I’m up against some pretty incredible guys, so it’s just an honor to even be a part of this list.

Editor’s note: Finke was right. He became the first distance swimmer to be named Male Athlete of the Year.

See more highlights from the Olympians, Paralympians and World Champions walking the Golden Goggles red carpet below!

You are a two-time Olympic champion, two-time world medalist and professional athlete. If someone told you four years ago that this would be your life, would you believe it?

finch: no Four years ago I was just trying to form an Olympic team. When I was 16, I started trying to make an Olympic team. That’s when I knew I had my first chance and started working towards the Tokyo games. I wasn’t looking for a medal or anything. I was just trying to make an Olympic team and then when I got on the team I was just trying to reach the finals. It was one step at a time.

How old were you when you first fell in love with swimming?

finch: My whole family was involved in swimming in one way or another. My mother, JeanneActually swam for Ball State and my dad yeah — who couldn’t swim until he started dating my mom — is actually a swim coach now. I grew up with my two older sisters, autumn and Ariel, in the pool and was always asking her about her times and comparing them to mine so I could figure out how to beat her. That’s all I was interested in. Growing up around this competition has really shaped how I swim my races and how I train. Competing with people is what I love most about this sport.

Did you grow up with the Olympics as a kid? Which swimmers/athletes have you looked up to?

finch: The first Olympics I remember was in 2008 Michael Phelps. He was someone I looked up to. I was 8 years old then. I just cheered, but I didn’t really realize how big it is what he’s achieved. The swimmer I really idolized as a kid was Robert Margalis. He’s had a tough road and I admired his determination. He was my main inspiration. I actually know his sister melaniepretty good and would race her whenever she came home for breaks from college.

Let’s fast-forward to the Tokyo Games. Guide me through your experience.

finch: I didn’t know what to expect when I went to the games. There were no fans there which I think affected other swimmers as they were used to having a crowded atmosphere but as it was my first Olympics I didn’t have anything like it. So I felt like that gave me a small advantage. All in all, Tokyo was great. They put on great Olympics and the whole experience was incredible for me. I think I did pretty well and I hope to do it again.

You definitely did it “pretty well”. Walking away with two gold medals in your first Olympics and winning both in very dramatic fashion, how was that for you? Do you remember what you thought and felt during the race?

finch: Back to the last 50 [meters], I’ve really never done that. I’ve never had great closing speed on 800m or 1500m. It just happened. I knew the Europeans were really good at coming home and I knew I was well behind them going into the last 50, especially in the 800m. I was confident going into the 1500m but I was had no idea what was going to happen in the 800m.

On the 800m I only saw that I had caught up a bit. The last 50 felt like an eternity and I gradually tried to catch more and more of it Mykhailo Romanchukwho was next to me. When I got past him, I could see across the field and it dawned on me Florian Wellbrock fell back, and then Gregory Paltrinieri was the same for all of us. At that point, with five meters to go, I knew I wouldn’t be okay with being passed, so I made sure I put every ounce of energy I had left into this race have. I’m so happy I did.

Swimming - Olympic Games: Day 9

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from training with Katie Ledecky so far?

finch: Trust. She can go ALL fast. THE. TIME. It’s crazy. It’s something I want to be able to do too and Katie told me I just have to believe I can do it. So I’m working on that. I’m learning a lot from her, especially seeing how she carries herself, her confidence and training and her work ethic.

Are you doing anything differently in terms of training to prepare for Paris?

finch: We just stick to the formula that works. We’re adding a few things here and there, but we’re not changing the foundation of our training. Nesty has ideas all the time. The last swam with surgical gloves to eliminate the feeling of water. I think he came up with this idea while cutting up chicken at home. The next day he came to practice and made us all swim with gloves and rubber bands around our wrists.

Switch it up, I’ve got some quick-fire questions for you. Are you ready?

finch: yes let’s do it

I know you’re a big Marvel guy. I’ll name a few of your US teammates. Name which superhero they are most like and why.

Katie Ledecky.

finch: Hmmm. I try to think of the best. There are two parts to this. Who is the strongest avenger and who is the best? I think Thor is the strongest avenger, so I’ll say Thor for Katie.

Kieran Smith.

finch: iron man. He has charisma so I think Iron Man suits him well.

Ryan Murphy.

finch: Hmmm. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. I guess Captain America. Just the charisma and the way he has himself and the team leadership that Ryan has. He’s doing a really great job captaining our team.

ReganSmith.

finch: Captain Marvel. She is strong, amazing and funny.

Caeleb Dressel.

finch: I will go with Thor again.

Which avenger would you be?

finch: I would say either Captain America or Thor, not because of my personality but simply because those two are my favorites.

I know you don’t listen to music before the race, so how do you manage that? What do you think of? Any affirmations?

finch: I just sit and stare at my name being called.

If you could only listen to one artist for an entire workout, who would it be?

finch: queen or Elton-John. I really like music from the 70’s and 80’s.

What would you wish more people knew about life as a swimmer?

finch: We have very early wake up calls and very long days. During the pandemic I got up at 3:50 a.m. to workout, but now I get up at 4:55 a.m. every day.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meeting without…

finch: The first thing that came to mind was pizza. I always eat pizza after every meeting.

Your life is at stake. You must sing a karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

finch: “Take me out to the ball game.” We had a karaoke machine growing up and that was the only song I could do.

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