Victoria's Eric Hedlin swims to 5K bronze against best in the world

It makes sense considering an island, by definition, is surrounded by water. Might as well make use of it.

The Island has a rich heritage in open-water swimming, from the hardy few who have tested themselves against the Juan de Fuca Strait, to those Islanders in organized open-water events. Included among the latter Island achievements are Richard Weinberger’s 10K bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics and Eric Hedlin’s 5K silver medal in the 2013 FINA world championships.

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Victoria’s Hedlin added to the lore by winning the bronze medal Friday in the 5K at the 2019 FINA world aquatics championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Hedlin was across in 53 minutes, 32.4 seconds behind winner Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary (53:22.1) and silver medallist Logan Fontaine of France (53:32.2). Raben Dommann of Vancouver was 16th in 53:40.5.

“I’m so happy. It’s been six years but I’m back,” said Hedlin, referring to his first world-championship medal.

“It was quite a zoo out there, with a lot of elbows and things. So my goal was to be toward the front, where the density was less, so I had to worry less about fighting. One I got there, I could relax and stay calm and conserve my energy.

“Through my career, I’ve learned a lot of these little lessons. I put those lessons together in this race. Everything I’ve learned in my open-water career came together to let me have a solid race.”

Hedlin is the veteran of an otherwise very raw six-member Canadian open-water team at the worlds.

It includes 17-year-old Chantel Jeffrey, of the High Performance Centre-Victoria and Island Swim Club, and Toronto’s Kate Sanderson as the surprise Canadian representatives in the women’s 10K taking place today in South Korea.

Jeffrey and Sanderson dropped UVic/Pacific Swim Club veteran and three-time Olympian Stephanie Horner to third place in the Canadian trials this spring in the Cayman Islands.

Jon McKay of Victoria and Hau-Li Fan of the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, also two unexpected qualifiers, compete in the men’s 10K race Monday.

The 10K is the Olympic open-water event, and Islanders Jeffrey and McKay can qualify for Tokyo 2020 by placing in the top-10 at the worlds.

Both Jeffrey and McKay were upstart qualifiers for the worlds through the Canadian trials in the Cayman Islands. McKay recorded the upset victory in the men’s 10K trials over his veteran UVic/ Pacific Swim Club teammate Hedlin, who was third behind McKay and Fan and did not qualify for the 10K.

This is the former UVic Vike McKay’s first time on the Canadian team for the FINA worlds or, for that matter, a major Games such as Pan Am or Commonwealth. But he can swim right to the Olympics in Tokyo with a top-10 performance Monday.

“The open water team is a very inexperienced team, with five of the six swimmers never having competed at a world championships before,” said Canadian open-water head coach Mark Perry, prior to the start of the worlds.

“Only Eric Hedlin has experience at this level and, luckily, he is racing on Day 1 and hoping to get us off to a good start.”

Hedlin did just that and delivered a podium performance.

Pool swimming at the 2019 FINA worlds begins July 21 with Jeremy Bagshaw of Victoria and Claremont grad Mackenzie Padington from Campbell River competing for Canada, along with the likes of Penny Oleksiak.

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