Former South Surrey resident Richard Weinberger competes at Rio.

‘Frustrating’ Rio swim leaves Weinberger hungry for more

Open-water swimmer faced breathing difficulties due to exhaust from motorized boats on Olympic course.

Richard Weinberger had just finished a guided tour of Rio on Friday, complete with a visit to the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain.

But world-famous sites didn’t call the Semiahmoo Secondary grad to Brazil – it was the Summer Olympics.

Competing in the men’s 10-km open-water swim at his second Olympic Games, the 26-year-old bronze medallist from London 2012 finished 17th in Rio.

“We were definitely on track to win gold. I was strong enough to win gold here, it was just dealing with a circumstance in the race that we kind of misjudged,” he told Peace Arch News in a telephone interview from Copacabana Beach in Rio on Aug. 19.

Weinberger crossed the finish line in one hour, 53 minutes and 16.4 seconds, less than 17 seconds behind the winner. The gold medal went to Ferry Weertman of the Netherlands, who clocked a time of 1:52:59.8. Greece’s Spiros Gianniotis won silver, while France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier finished with bronze.

Watching him in Rio were his parents Tony and Marina Weinberger and girlfriend Stefanie Warren.

Weinberger said the 10-km marathon swim is a developing sport, and every race is different. The biggest difference between his two Olympic experiences was Rio’s addition of 20 motorized boats used by race officials and media. He said breathing fumes from the boats for two hours made his tongue and throat swell, giving him breathing problems late in the race.

Weinberger’s start was good. After the first and second laps, he was in the draft-friendly position of 13th. Entering his third lap, he set a goal of moving into a position where he could win the race.

Heading into the final lap he was in fourth.

“I was in a perfect position to win the race,” he said. “I was swimming well.”

But what he called “tactical swimming” by his competitors – pulling at his legs or getting on top of him outside the view of judges – made him fall to 10th place.

“I feel like I was targeted because I was getting ready to push the pace and hammer it out that last lap,” he said. “I’m probably one of the best athletes at just pacing in the race, but I’m probably not the strongest with fighting and pushing my weight around.”

Fighting off his competitors forced Weinberger to use more energy, and engine exhaust made it impossible for him to regain his position.

“I started gasping or needing more air. My throat was swelling up to a point where I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sore after the race, I really wasn’t that tired. I had plenty of energy after the race. What was limiting me was breathing the gasoline fumes,” he said. “A lot of my competitors didn’t have a problem but a couple of us did.”

Weinberger said he’s frustrated with the outcome of the race, but he’s happy with his two years of preparation with University of B.C. coaches Steve Price and Tom Johnson, who helped him regain confidence, restore his motivation and conquer a sleep disorder.

Despite his finish, the Vancouver-based athlete is aiming to become a world champion next year.

“I’m pretty pissed off at what happened here, and I’m ready to get back into the pool and just keep going.”

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