Eric Hedlin Victoria BC photos Nathan White (Swimming Canada)

Eric Hedlin got the Canadian swim team off to a good start with a bronze medal in the 5-km as open water competition began at the FINA World Championships.

The 26-year-old from Victoria earned his second career 5-km medal on a drizzly Saturday morning in Yeosu, South Korea (Friday evening in Canadian time zones). Hungarian Kristof Rasovszky was the winner, and Logan Fontaine of France out-touched Hedlin for silver.

“I’m so happy, it’s been six years but I’m back,” said Hedlin, who also captured silver in this event in 2013.

Eric Hedlin Victoria BC photos  Nathan White (Swimming Canada)
Eric Hedlin Victoria BC photos Nathan White (Swimming Canada)

Hedlin and senior national team rookie Raben Dommann of Vancouver both pushed towards the front of the pack early and were among the Top 10 after the first of three 1.67-km laps.

“It was quite a zoo out there,” Hedlin said. “There was a lot of elbows and everything but I went out there and my goal was to be toward the front where the density was lower so I could worry about fighting less and also have a great view of where everyone was going. Once I got up there I was just all about trying to relax and stay calm.”

As two arrowhead-shaped packs formed into one at the end of Lap 2 and the pace picked up into the final lap, Hedlin was still holding fifth place, while Dommann dropped back to 13th.

“I felt like I was able to conserve my energy quite well,” Hedlin said. “Going around the final buoy I was maybe like sixth or seventh, but that’s when people started hurting and that’s where the previous couple laps really helped me out, my relaxation.”

As Rasovszky pushed his lead to more than 10 seconds at the end, Hedlin touched just 0.2 seconds behind Fontaine in a photo finish.

“The Hungarian took off but I was able to lift and it was me and Logan duking it out for second and it was back and forth,” Hedlin said. “He really lifted at the end, he got me quite handily, even though it was a close finish. I just made sure I got my hand up there as quick as I could.”

It was Open Water Head Coach Mark Perry’s first medal in his third world championships at the helm for Canada.

Eric Hedlin Victoria BC photos  Nathan White (Swimming Canada)
Eric Hedlin Victoria BC photos Nathan White (Swimming Canada)

“What an excellent performance. I think we knew going in that Eric had experience and he had the form to be on the podium. Both him and Raben took the bull by the horns, they both went to the front and were both in the Top 10 for the majority of the race,” Perry said. “Eric knew what he was doing the whole race. He matched the speed of everyone, he just got pushed off a little at the end there, which is part of the sport, but managed to get us on the podium and we’re all delighted with that. We know we’ve prepared well and it’s looking good for the rest of the week now.”

Dommann finished 16th in his national team debut. After having dropped back several spots, he pushed past about 10 swimmers on the final stretch.

“It’s definitely a lot different than the junior team stuff I’ve done. The race was more aggressive but I think I held my ground fairly well. I know I made a few mistakes, I got pushed around a bit, but I came back at the end so I’m proud of that,” said the 18-year-old, who will compete in the 10-km at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, next month.

“Raben had a learning experience in the race, but actually knocked off 10 people to finish in the Top 16, which is a superb performance for him,” Perry added.

Both swimmers earned spots to represent Canada at the World Beach Games later this year.

Open water competition continues Sunday (Saturday evening in Canadian time zones) as Toronto native Kate Sanderson and Chantel Jeffrey of the High Performance Centre – Victoria compete in the women’s 10-km. The top 10 swimmers in that Olympic distance event earn spots at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

“The Open water program continues to progress. Eric returning to the podium at the world championships open water 5-km is a terrific start to these world championships, congratulations to him and his coach Ron Jacks,” said Swimming Canada High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. “Also Raben Dommann placing 16th in his first worlds shows new talent is now being progressed through our club programs and national team opportunities supported by Sport Canada, Own The Podium and the Canadian Olympic Committee.

Full open water results: