Canadian bronze-medallist Richard Weinberger (right) on the Olympic podium with gold medallist Oussama Mellouli of Tunesia

Canadian bronze-medallist Richard Weinberger (right) on the Olympic podium with gold medallist Oussama Mellouli of Tunesia

South Surrey’s Weinberger wins Olympic bronze in open-water swim

Former Pacific Sea Wolves swimmer finishes 5.2 seconds behind gold medallist in men's 10-km marathon swim at London Summer Olympics

After a grueling swim in the cold waters of Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park, a tired Richard Weinberger – swept up in the hysteria of an historic Olympic performance – still found time for his family Friday.

“I love you, mom!” the 22-year-old South Surrey native yelled, spying his mother, Marina, in the crowd after stepping off the podium, where just moments before he was awarded a bronze medal in the men’s 10-km open-water swim.

Weinberger, a former Pacific Sea Wolves swimmer who learned to swim in a family pool in Saudi Arabia where his father, Tony, a commercial pilot, was once stationed, was considered by many to be a medal contender, if not exactly a favourite. At just 22 years old, Weinberger was one of the youngest swimmers in the field, and only took up marathon swimming a few years ago after moving to Victoria to swim at the University of Victoria.

On Friday, he finished the 10-km course in one hour, 50 minutes and 0.5 seconds, which was 1.8 seconds behind silver medallist Thomas Lurz of Germany and 5.2 back of Tunesia’s Oussama Mellouli, who nabbed gold.

Weinberger’s medal was Canada’s 17th at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the country’s third podium finish in swimming. It was also Canada’s first-ever Olympic medal in an open-water event.

It’s also the third medal for the Semiahmoo Peninsula, as the third-place finish at Hyde Park comes on the heels of Canada’s national women’s soccer team winning bronze over France Thursday, and White Rock’s Christine Girard winning bronze in weightlifting earlier in the Games.

The women’s soccer team is coached by Peninsula resident John Herdman, while Maeve Glass – former president of Peace Arch Soccer – is the team’s equipment manager.

And though it’s been a most successful few weeks for all hometown Olympians – swimmer Hilary Caldwell rounded out the local contingent in London – Friday belonged to Weinberger.

The podium finish caps an impressive few months for the young swimmer, who has second- and third-place finishes on the World Cup circuit this year. He also won an Olympic test event on the Hyde Park course last August, so the course was not unfamiliar to him.

He qualified for the Olympics in June, when he finished second to Mellouli at a race in Portugal. In that race, Weinberger had to fight his way back from 49th – dead last – which is where he sat after one lap after he was forced to stop and readjust his goggles.

Last month, Weinberger’s coach, Ron Jacks, called him “the fastest improving open-water swimmer in the world.”

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