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South Surrey swimmer qualifies for Summer Olympics

Richard Weinberger finished second at a 10-km race Sunday, thus qualifying him for the London Olympics this summer. - Swimming Canada photo
Richard Weinberger finished second at a 10-km race Sunday, thus qualifying him for the London Olympics this summer.
— image credit: Swimming Canada photo

South Surrey open-water swimmer Richard Weinberger has punched his ticket to the Summer Olympics next month in London.

Weinberger earned the spot on Canada’s Olympic open-water team after winning a silver medal in the men’s 10-km race at the FINA Olympic Marathon Swimming qualifier Sunday in Setubal, Portugal.

“To know I’m going to the Olympics is just unexplainable,” Weinberger said in a release. “I don’t think it has sunk in just yet.”

Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli won the gold medal in one hour 45 minutes 18.5 seconds. Weinberger followed in 1:45:30.2 and Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria was third in 1:45:34.1

Weinberger started the endurance race near the back of the field, but gained on his competitors on every lap of the six-lap race. After the first lap, he was in last place – 49th position – because he was forced to stop and put his goggles back on after they’d come off. From there, he moved up to 23rd, 15th, eighth and fifth on the ensuing laps, before moving into second place on the final lap.

“There are a lot of ups and downs in marathon swimming so we train for that,” Weinberger, 22, explained.

“I knew I would just have to chip away and rely a lot on my training. My race plan didn’t really work out, but I knew what I had to do to catch the field.”

The top nine finishers in the race – with a limit of one per country – earned an Olympic nomination.

Fellow Canadian Zsofia Balazs of Toronto also earned a spot in London, after a sixth-place finish in the women’s 10-km race.

Weinberger is the third athlete from the Semiahmoo Peninsula to qualify for the Summer Games, joining weightlifter Christine Girard – who finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – and first-time Olympian Hillary Caldwell, a swimmer who will compete in the 200-m backstroke.

The marathon swim course in London will be familiar territory for Weinberger.

The former Pacific Sea Wolves Swim Club member, who now lives and trains in Victoria, finished first at an Olympic test event at London’s Hyde Park last summer.

He followed that result with a victory at the Pan American Games, and also won one silver and one bronze medal on the recent World Cup swim circuit.

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