BARCELONA – Eric Hedlin of Victoria won Canada’s first medal on the first day of competition at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona.

The 20-year-old clocked 53:31.6 to take second place in the men’s 5-kilometre open water race at Moll de la Fusta. Hedlin pushed 29-year-old Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia to the final sprint, falling just short of the Olympic 10-km champion’s pace of 5:30.4.

The race ended the domination of German Thomas Lurz. The seven-time defending champion finished behind Hedlin in third at 53:32.2

“I am really happy because I didn’t expect (to beat Lurz),” Hedlin said after the race. “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 just missed qualifying for the national team in the 1,500-m freestyle despite swimming the third-fastest time ever by a Canadian at World Championships Trials in April. He regrouped and qualified in the open water category by finishing 16th in the 10-km at the FINA World Cup in Cozumel, Mexico. Hedlin made the most of the opportunity by winning silver for Canada.

“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.”

Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson was impressed with the performance from a rookie in his first world championships.

“This is a great job by a young athlete who can build on this toward Rio 2016 and beyond. This was a world class field so standing on the podium along side Oussama Mellouli and Thomas Lurz shows the quality of this medal,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson also noted Hedlin’s recent success in the pool, winning bronze in the 800-m freestyle at the Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia.

Meanwhile, Randy Bennett, head coach of the Victoria Academy of Swimming and head coach of the national team, was proud of his young swimmer.

“This is a very good job in his second open water swim, and testament to the work he has done this year,” Bennett said. “With future opportunities he has this puts him into a great position to continue to progress.”

Philippe Guertin of Montreal, who was also making his world championships debut for Canada, came 23rd in a time of 53:46.4

The two-week marquee event, which also features water polo, diving, synchronized swimming, and a new discipline of high diving, continues Sunday. Open water competition resumes Monday as Hedlin returns to the water for the 10-km event, along with fellow Victorian Richard Weinberger, who won bronze in the 10-km at last year’s London Olympics. Swimming action will shift to the pool from July 28 – Aug. 4.
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