Moose Jaw-born swimmer Richard Weinberger won Canada’s 17th medal Friday when he captured the bronze in the men’s 10-kilometre open-swimming marathon event at the London Olympic Games.
Weinberger, 22, made his Olympic debut aiming for a podium finish. He finished the 10 km race in one hour, 50 minutes and 0.30 seconds. That was just 5.2 seconds behind Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli, who took home gold, and 1.8 seconds behind silver medalist Thomas Lurz of Germany.
Weinberger was ecstatic after keeping pace with the leaders and holding off world champion Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece, who finished fourth.
“You’ve just got to have fun,” Weinberger told the Canadian Press. “That’s pretty much my position going into every single race. I’m here to have fun, I’m here to race these guys and compete, but racing is just the best.
“Training is hard and this is like Christmas morning.”
The 10 km open swim event was introduced to the Games in 2008.
As one of the youngest of the 25 competitors in the event, Weinberger has yet to find what he called his “old man strength.”
The Victoria resident raced to the head of the pack and led Mellouli in the early stages of the race. He used his youth to his advantage as he set a fast pace early.
At the midway point he had fallen back to fourth place, but was in touch with the leaders.
He had hoped that the fast early pace would negate some of the advantage his older foes had in their finishing kick. That ended up being crucial in the final 300 metres.
“At that point it was ‘All right, time to get a medal,’” Weinberger said.
He held off the 32-year-old Gianniotis over the final 300 metres to land on the podium.
He was right behind Lurz, who is also a decade his senior, an impressive feat in a sport that leans heavily on experience and maturity.
“I’m still working and gaining speed and endurance (to) get my ‘old-man strength’” Weinberger said. “That’s what I call it.”
He executed the game plan of his veteran coach Ron Jacks to perfection.
“For the most part, what Ron and I came up with is what we planned for,” Weinberger told The Canadian Press. “Instead of having a race between 25 people, we made the race between four people and just tried to push the pace there and separate things and outsprint the guys at the end.”
Weinberger began making a splash in the marathon swimming world in 2011 when he won gold at the Pan American Games and placed first at an Olympic test event in London.
Weinberger’s swimming career started long before that while he was still living in Moose Jaw.
According to files obtained by 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Weinberger’s father, Tony, graduated from the base’s flight school in 1984. He then spent the next five years flying helicopters on the East Coast before returning to the Friendly City in 1989 as an instructor at 15 Wing.
Weinberger was born in 1990 and spent the first five years of his life in Moose Jaw. In an interview conducted with his parents — Tony and Marina Weinberger — Richard said he took his first swimming lessons at the age of four, which would have been during his time in Moose Jaw.
Tony Weinberger then took a commercial pilot job that stationed the family in Saudi Arabia in 1995 where Richard developed a love for swimming. Two years later, they would move to British Columbia and Weinberger began swimming competitively.
He lists his hometown as Surrey, B.C., but swims for the Pacific Coast Swimming club in Victoria. Weinberger also attends the University of Victoria where he studies economics.
— with files from The Canadian Press