All those unrelenting kilometres churning in the Saanich Commonwealth Place pool paid off Friday morning in the Serpentine at Hyde Park as Richard Weinberger of Victoria won the bronze medal in the mens open-water 10K swimming event of the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia who earlier in the London Games took bronze in the pool 1,500 metre-freestyle behind silver-medallist Ryan Cochrane of Victoria won the open-water gold medal in one hour, 49 minutes, 55.1 seconds and veteran Thomas Lurz of Germany the silver medal in 1:49: 58.5 with Weinberger the bronze medallist in 1:50:00.3.
It was such a sense of relief, said UVic-Pacific Coast Swimming Club member Weinberger, by phone from London.
So much was poured into this race from my family, coaches, friends, supporters, club and training centre that Im just so happy.
The Islander came into the Olympics as an intriguing darkhorse having won the official Olympic test event in the Serpentine last year before capturing the 2011 Pan American Games gold medal in Guadalajara, Mexico, and later finishing second in the London Olympics qualifying race in Portugal.
He looked like he was ready to pop one. And did.
Yeah, I knew in the back of my mind I could be top-three in the Olympics but my main goal was to come in the top-five, said Weinberger.
He did at least that, and two spots better.
Weinberger hung tough with the four-man breakaway which included himself, Mellouli, Lurz and defending 2011 world champion Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece when it made its move ahead of the pack. But it was Mellouli who then made his daring move on the lead group by pulling out ahead alone. The 1,500-metre pool gold-medallist from the 2008 Beijing Olympics would not be caught. Not that Weinberger didnt hold out hope and dare to dream.
When Mellouli went out, I knew it was going to be hard to catch one of the top milers in the world. But I could have come first if I could have stayed on Melloulis tail, said Weinberger.
But I stayed focused and kept my cool and told myself to keep moving ahead and get a medal. Im happy with the bronze.
The scary thing is the UVic economics major is only 22-years-old three years ago he was winning two gold medals in the pool at the 2009 Canada Summer Games in Prince Edward Island and must now be rated as a serious threat to win it all in open water at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.
The medal was also a triumph for Weinbergers coach, the veteran Victoria mentor Ron Jacks, the former Island pool coach who became a pioneer of coaching open-water swimmers long before the event entered the Olympics in 2008 at Beijing. Jacks was in his boat coaching Island open-water swimmers all over the world back when people considered the whole idea of competitive open-water swimming a daft and old-fashioned throwback notion in the world of modern sport.
But on Friday, Weinberger and Jacks proved truly podium worthy in a old park they call Hyde.
Ron [Jacks] has put me to where I am, said Weinberger.
I was zero in open water just three years ago when I started. Now Im third in the world.
Weinberger was a credible pool swimmer in Surrey who only really blossomed when he moved to Victoria several years ago to become a part of the Islands hothouse-like Olympic-training community. He often trains around town with the likes of Victoria Olympic triathlete Brent McMahon, who also competed in London.
Im going to come home and party and hang out with my friends in Victoria and thank them for their support, said Weinberger.
Everyone there has been awesome to me.
Weinbergers medal was Canadas 17th of the London Olympics and fourth by Island athletes, joining Victoria 1,500 freestyle swimmer Cochranes silver, the Elk Lake-based Canadian mens rowing eights silver and Victoria track team pursuit cyclist Gillian Carletons bronze.
The 2012 London Olympics careen into the final weekend with the last of the 48 Island athletes.
Victoria diver Riley McCormick goes into mens 10-metre qualifying today realistic in terms of expectations.
Ive been stuck at ninth [his placing at the last two world championships]. If I get into the top-six, I would be ecstatic with that, he said.
Im still hungry.
And wiser after having gone through his first Olympics four years ago.
Having already been there [Beijing], you know what to expect [in London], he said.
Islander Cam Levins, the running prodigy from tiny Black Creek, qualified Wednesday and is in the mens 5,000-metre final Saturday at 11: 30 a.m. PDT in that raucous cauldron which the London Olympic stadium has become during these Games.
Then, just before the closing ceremonies on Sunday, UVic mechanical engineering grad and three-time Olympian Geoff Kabush of Courtenay, and Tofino-native and Olympic-rookie Max Plaxton of Victoria, race the mens mountain bike final on the last day of the Games at 5: 30 a.m. PDT at Hadleigh Farm just outside London.
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