Bobby Fink made his first dive by reaching an Olympic Trials final in 2016 at the age of 16. Now 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, won numerous honors, including Male Athlete of the Year, at the Golden Goggles – the Oscars of American swimming.
Finke reflected on his remarkable last two years, his experience in Tokyo, what he learned from his teammate Katie Ledecky and more below.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s talk Olympic: What do your Golden Goggles – Male Race of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year nominations mean to you?
Bobby Fink: I think I read somewhere that if I won athlete of the year I would be the first long distance swimmer on the men’s side to get it so I really hope I can be honored and get that price, especially for the coach. Antoine Nesty and the University of Florida. I’m up against some pretty amazing things, so it’s just an honor to be on this list.
Editor’s Note: Finke was right. He became the first long distance swimmer to win Male Athlete of the Year.
For more highlights from Olympians, Paralympians and World Champions on the Golden Goggles red carpet, see below!
You are a two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time world medalist and a professional athlete. If someone told you four years ago that this would be your life, would you believe it?
Fink: No. Four years ago, I was just trying to make an Olympic team. I started the journey of trying to make an Olympic team when I was 16. That’s when I knew I had a chance and started working for the Tokyo Games. I wasn’t looking for a medal or anything. I was just trying to make an Olympic team and then once on the team I was just trying to get to the final. It’s one step at a time.
How old were you when you first fell in love with swimming?
Fink: My whole family has been involved in swimming in one way or another. My mother, Joanswam for Ball State and my dad, Joe — who couldn’t swim until he went out with my mom — is actually now a swim coach. I grew up racing with my two older sisters, Autumn and Arielle, in the pool and I was always asking them what their times were and comparing them to mine so I could figure out how to beat them. That’s all I cared about. Growing up with this competition around me has really shaped the way I swim my races and how I go to training. Competing with people is what I love the most about this sport.
Did you grow up watching the Olympics as a kid? Which swimmers/athletes have you admired?
Fink: The first Olympics that I remember were in 2008 with Michael Phelps. He was someone I looked up to. I was 8 years old at the time. I was just applauding, but I hadn’t really realized the magnitude of what he had accomplished. The swimmer I really idolized growing up was Robert Margalis. He had a difficult journey and I admired his determination. He was my main source of inspiration. In fact, I know his sister, Melaniepretty well and raced her every time she came home from college for breaks.
Let’s quickly move on to the Tokyo Games. Tell me about your experience.
Fink: I didn’t know what to expect before the Games. There were no fans there which I think affected the other swimmers as they were used to having an atmosphere with a ton of people but as it was my first Olympics I didn’t had nothing to compare to. So I felt like it gave me a little edge. Overall Tokyo was great. They put on a great Olympics and the whole experience was amazing for me. I think I did pretty well, and I hope I can do another one.
You certainly did “very well”. Coming away with two gold medals at your first Olympics, winning them both in spectacular fashion, how was that for you? Do you remember what you were thinking and feeling halfway through the race?
Fink: Back to the last 50 [meters], I’ve never really done that before. I never had a great closing speed over 800m or 1500m. It kind of just happened. I knew the Europeans were really good at coming home, and I knew that going into the last 50m I was significantly behind them, especially in the 800m. I felt confident for the 1500m, but I had no idea what was going to happen in the 800m.
During the 800m, I just saw that I was catching up a bit. The last 50 seemed endless, and I was gradually trying to catch more and more Mykhailo Romanchuk, who was next to me. Once I passed it, I could see across the whole field, and I realized Florian Wellbrock fell, then Gregorio Paltrinieri was there with all of us. At that point, with only five meters to go, I knew that if I got hit I wouldn’t be okay with it, so I made sure to put all the energy I had left into this race. I’m so glad I did.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from training with Katie Ledecky so far?
Fink: Trust. She can go fast ALL. THE. TIME. It’s crazy. It’s something I want to be able to do too, and Katie told me I just needed to believe I could do it. So that’s something I’m working on. I learn a lot from her, especially seeing how she behaves, her confidence and her training and work ethic.
Do you do anything different in terms of training to prepare for Paris?
Fink: We just stick to the formula that works. We add things here and there, but we don’t change the basis of our training. Nesty has ideas all the time. The most recent was swimming with surgical gloves to eliminate the sensation of water. I think he had this idea when he was cutting chicken at home. The next day he came to practice and made us all swim with gloves and rubber bands around our wrists.
Switching gears, I have a few quick questions for you. Are you ready?
Fink: Yeah, let’s do it.
I know you’re a big Marvel guy. I will name a few of your American teammates. Name which superhero they most resemble and why.
Fink: 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 consider Thor the strongest Avenger, so for Katie, I’ll say Thor.
Fink: Iron Man. He has charisma, so I think Iron Man pairs well with him.
Fink: Hmmm. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. I suppose Captain America. Just the charisma and the way he carries himself and Ryan’s team leadership. He is doing a very good job as captain of our team.
Fink: Captain Marvel. She is strong, amazing and funny.
Fink: I will leave with Thor.
Which Avenger would you be?
Fink: I would say either Captain America or Thor, not because of my personality, but just because those two are my favorites.
I know you don’t listen to music before the race, so how do you lock yourself in? What do you think? assertions?
Fink: I kind of sit and stare waiting for my name to be called.
If you could only listen to one artist during a full workout, who would it be?
Fink: Queen Where Elton John. I really like music from the 70s and 80s.
What do you wish more people knew about being a swimmer?
Fink: We have very early awakenings and very long days. During the pandemic, I used to get up at around 3:50 a.m. to work out, but now I get up at 4:55 a.m. every day.
Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a date without…
Fink: The first thing that came to mind is pizza. After each meeting, I always have a pizza.
Your life is at stake. You have to sing a karaoke song to save it. What do you choose?
Fink: “Take me to the ball game.” We had a karaoke machine growing up, and it was the only song I could do.
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