Island’s Hedlin shocks aquatics worlds with silver

The Island has suddenly become the trendy open-water capital of the world.

Eric Hedlin of Victoria seemed to come out of nowhere Saturday to win Canada’s first swimming medal at the 2013 FINA world aquatics championships in Barcelona by striking for silver in the men’s 5K behind the great Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia.

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Victoria’s Richard Weinberger, who won bronze behind champion Mellouli in the open-water 10K at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, seeks to follow up his London breakthrough in the world 10K final Monday in Barcelona.

But Saturday belonged to Hedlin, in what was considered a major surprise considering the 20-year-old only qualified for the world championships by placing 16th at the recent FINA World Cup in Cancun, Mexico.

The Islander shunted seven-time world champion Thomas Lurz of Germany to the bronze medal. Mellouli won gold in 53:30.4, holding off Hedlin (53:31.6) in a furious sprint to the line. Lurz was across in 53:32.2.

“I am really happy, because I didn’t expect [to beat Lurz],” Hedlin said in a statement.

“It felt pretty good. I was trying to hold a top position and stay in everyone’s draft. In the final sprint, Oussama was so much quicker than me, and I couldn’t do anything to beat him.”

Hedlin is taking his rapid ascent to the world championships podium in stride.

“Back in Cancun a few months ago, I made a lot of mistakes. So I did what I could to make improvements in this race,” he said. “I felt like I executed the strategy pretty well.”

Did he ever.

“This is a great job by a young athlete who can build on this toward Rio 2016 and beyond,” said John Atkinson, the new Swimming Canada high performance director.

“This was a world-class field, so standing on the podium along side Oussama Mellouli and Thomas Lurz shows the quality of this medal.”

Hedlin is part of coach Randy Bennett’s Victoria Swim Academy, which has qualified six swimmers for the 2013 world aquatics championships.

“We push each other every day in that pool [Saanich Commonwealth Place] to be better,” Victoria Swim Academy star and two-time Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane said from Barcelona, where the pool swimming starts this week at the world championships.

That push has been right to the podium.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware, both from Quebec, won bronze in the women’s three-metre synchronized diving final Saturday at the FINA world aquatics championships, which include pool and open-water swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo.

ROAD TO RIO: Canada captain Fred Winters and Josh Howatson, both of Victoria, came within a game of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics in volleyball. They will bear watching for Rio 2016 if last week’s stirring upset over defending Olympic champion Russia, and the competitive loss to current world No. 1 Brazil, was any indication. Canada qualified for the first time for the six-nation FIVB World League finals and looks to be a national side on the rise. Winters, a graduate of Claremont Secondary, and Howatson, a product of Oak Bay High, are physical specimens — tremendously powerful yet agile athletes.

• It was another weekend and another encouraging World Cup Triathlon Series result for former world junior women’s champion Kirsten Sweetland of Victoria, whose rebound from near career-derailing injuries is turning into a compelling storyline on the road to Rio. The Stelly’s High grad was 15th Saturday in Hamburg.

• Andrew Yorke (20th), Olympian Kyle Jones (25th) and Andrew McCartney (42nd), all based in Victoria, were the Canadians in the men’s World Cup Series race in Hamburg, in which the fabulous London Olympic gold- and bronze-medallist Brownlee brothers of Great Britain finished 1-2.

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