Canada earns bronze in open-water marathon

Canada's Richard Weinberger shows off his bronze medal for Men's Marathon Swimming at the Olympic Games in London on Friday August 10, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

LONDON - Canada's swim team came to the London Olympics confident it could bring home three medals.

Richard Weinberger made that goal a reality in the final swimming event of the Games.

The 22-year-old upstart outduelled the reigning world champion over the final metres of the men's 10-kilometre marathon, winning bronze in an event dominated by older athletes.

Weinberger was ecstatic after keeping pace with the leaders and holding off world champion Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece, who finished fourth.

"You've just got to have fun," said Weinberger, a native of Surrey, B.C., who lives and trains in Victoria. "That's pretty much my position going into every single race. I'm here to have fun, I'm here to race these guys and compete, but racing is just the best.

"Training is hard and this is like Christmas morning."

Weinberger was 5.2 seconds behind Tunisia's Oussama Mellouli, who finished in one hour 49 minutes 55.1 seconds at the event held in the Serpentine in London's Hyde Park. Germany's Thomas Lurz won silver.

With Victoria's Ryan Cochrane winning silver in the men's 1,500 freestyle and Brent Hayden of Mission, B.C., claiming bronze in the men's 100-metre freestyle, Canada won more than one medal in the pool for the first time since the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Weinberger's bronze is the latest in a string of high-profile results for the young swimmer. He was first at the London Games test event last summer, then won gold at the Pan American Games in October. His results are more impressive considering his age.

Marathon swimming favours race experience and mature engines. Swimmers like Lurz and Gianniotis are about 10 years older than Weinberger.

"I'm still working and gaining speed and endurance (to) get my 'old-man strength,'" Weinberger said. "That's what I call it."

The medal is Canada's first in the sport. Open water swimming made its debut in 2008 in Beijing, but Canada didn't qualify any swimmers then.

Overall, Canada remained on course for its projected top-12 finish in the overall medal standings. Canada stood 12th going into the final two days of the Olympics with 17 medals — one gold, five silver and 11 bronze.

With the Olympics winding down, much of the discussion in social media centred on who would have the honour of carrying the Maple Leaf into the closing ceremony.

The popular choice so far is women's soccer captain Christine Sinclair, whose hat trick in Canada's heartbreaking semifinal loss is possibly the most resonant Canadian performance of these Games. Her supporters include B.C. Premier Christy Clark and CBC host Jian Ghomeshi.

"If it was to happen it would the hugest honour but I'd want my teammates there with me," Sinclair said.

Coach John Herdman said Sinclair is the obvious choice.

"She's a special woman and I think Canada has been privileged to watch her play for these many years. I think there has been a bit of void in her career and that was filled (Thursday) night," Herdman said.

In other Canadian results:

— Matthew Gentry of Burnaby, B.C., lost 3-0 to Russia's Denis Tsargush in a bronze medal match in the 74-kilogram men's freestyle wrestling event.

— Canada's men's 4x100 relay team qualified third for Saturday's final behind the United States and Jamaica. The team consists of Justyn Warner of Markham, Ont., Gavin Smellie of Brampton, Ont., Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I., and Ottawa’s Oluseyi Smith.

— Halifax kayaker Mark de Jonge won his heat and semifinal in the K-1 200 metres to advance to the final.

— Hugues Fournel of Lachine, Que., and Ryan Cochrane of Windsor, N.S., finished fourth in the K-2 200 to earn the last berth in the final.

— Victoria's Riley McCormick qualified for the semifinal of the men's 10-metre platform diving event, finishing 11th in the preliminary round. Edmonton's Eric Sehn was 29th and failed to move on.

— Canada just missed the podium in team synchronized swimming, finishing fourth.

— Emilie Fournel of Lachine, failed to advance to the women's K-1 200 final.

— Jason McCoombs of Dartmouth, N.S., was fourth in his C-1 200 canoe semifinal and missed out on a spot in the final.

— Karine Sergerie of Sainte-Catherine, Que., lost her quarter-final match in the women's taekwondo under-67 kilogram class.

— Sebastien Michaud of Quebec City lost his opening taekwondo match against Arman Yeremyan of Armenia in the men's under-80 kilogram class.

— David Tremblay of Montreal fell to Turkey's Ahmet Peker in the men's 55-kilogram freestyle wrestling's round of 16.

— Canada finished 11th in team rhythmic gymnastics qualifying and did not advance.