Victoria’s Eric Hedlin capped the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships with a silver medal in the men’s 10-km marathon Tuesday.
It was the first international medal in five years for Hedlin, the 2013 world silver medallist in the 5-km.
“I feel really happy,” said Hedlin, who raised his arms in jubilation after crossing the finish line 6.2 seconds behind 2015 world champion and 2017 world silver medallist Jordan Wilimovsky of Team USA.
“I wanted to come first but Jordan is a really strong swimmer, so I thought realistically my best shot was second, hoping for Top 5. I’m very happy with that,” said Hedlin, 25.
Fourteen men and fifteen women completed five laps of a two-kilometre course at Tateyama’s Hojo Beach on Tokyo Bay. Hedlin led for the second, third and most of the fourth lap, but towards the end of the fourth lap Wilimovsky pulled ahead. Australian Nicholas Sloman settled for bronze, finishing 30.3 seconds behind Wilimovsky after taking the early lead.
“Jordan’s very strong and I knew that he was going to lift at the end,” Hedlin said. “It’s definitely encouraging. To be on track for Top 10 at worlds is my goal, and to hopefully qualify for the Olympics. Definitely I needed to finish within the top few here to be confident going into next year because there’s a whole bunch of strong swimmers over in Europe. I feel like I’m on track and I know what I need to do.”
Hedlin’s hardware brought Canada’s total to nine for the championships, two more than the team’s total in 2014.
It’s Canada’s first senior international medal since Distance/Open Water Coach Mark Perry began revamping the program after coming on board in 2016.
“We came to try to win medals and Eric really delivered there with a silver medal,” Perry said. “It started with the great work his coach Ron Jacks has done with him, and we’ve had a great camp for three weeks, first in Wakayama then in Tokyo. It’s been pretty hard on the guys waiting this long to do their one race but it all came together really well.”
Vancouver’s Hau-Li Fan finished seventh in the chase pack after hanging with the leaders for the first three laps.
“I felt like I was in the race for the most part. I was trying to work my way up to Top 5 for the third and fourth lap and I think I kind of got that but I dropped off near the end on the fifth lap,” Fan said. “I need to be able to stick with those top guys from when they make that move. I’m pretty good at being able to stay in that pack but being able to speed up is something I need to work on. It was lots of fun, I learned a lot, saw what open water training looks like and it was a good experience with the team.
On the women’s side, Stephanie Horner of Beaconsfield, Que., was Canada’s top finisher, coming eighth.
“Obviously it’s not necessarily the best race I would have liked to have swam, but I think you learn from every experience so I have to focus on that, take it forward with me and try to get better next year,” Horner said.
The 29-year-old veteran of three Olympic Games – two in the pool, one open water – says she still has Tokyo 2020 in her sights.
“I’m not really satisfied with where I’m at now and I don’t really want to leave the sport on a note that I’m not really happy with,” Horner said. “If I keep getting better I don’t see why I would stop. I feel like I still have lots to learn. Mark’s been great in guiding me and he has so much experience.
“I feel like he’s got a lot to give, I trust him and I want to get on his boat,” she said.
Toronto native Kate Sanderson came 10th. It was just the second career 10-km for the 18-year-old, who made her senior national team debut this year.
“I think I learned a lot,” Sanderson said. “It was nice to race some of the best girls and get a feel for how they race the 10-km. It was more contact than my first 10-km, so just dealing with getting hit in the face, my goggles, my cap, will help me in the future,” said Sanderson, who also swam pool events and set a personal best 8:43.99 in the 800-m freestyle.
Sanderson is one of 12 young swimmers set to represent Canada at the FINA World Junior Open Water Championships next month in Israel.
“I’m really impressed with Kate,” Perry said. “This was an opportunity for her to do a trial run for that and we believe with a couple of tweaks we can have a good performance there.”
“It was a great performance from Eric Hedlin to return to the podium in open water at the Pan Pacific Championships in a world-class field in the same race that Hau-Li also finished in the Top 8. It’s very pleasing we can have two men make the Top 8 at Pan Pacs. Hau-Li’s development over the last 12 months has been very good, getting his first FINA Open Water World Cup experience last summer in Lac St-Jean,” said Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson. “With Steph Horner placing eighth, that brings us to 47 A finals or Top 8 finishes, compared to 40 in 2014, which shows we’re building some depth.”