Richard Weinberger (7 June, 1990) is a Canadian open water swimmer whose conversion from long-distance freestyle in the pool has seen him rise to the top echelons of the sport.
Richard started swimming competitively as a seven-year-old, focusing on long-distance freestyle (400m-1500m) in the pool, and started open water training and competing when he was inspired by watching a friend doing longer workouts at the University of Victoria.
Taking to open water competition from the outset, Richard demonstrated his versatility at the 2009 Canada Games on Prince Edward Island, where he won both the 800m freestyle in the pool and the 10km open water events. In 2010 he showed continuous progress as he competed in various FINA events, including the 10km Marathon World Cup in Santos (Brazil), the Grand Prix at Sumidero Canyon (Mexico), and the World Championship trials in Irvine. At the Open water Championships in Roberval, Canada, he finished 17th in the 5km event, and 13th in the 10km event, in both cases a mere 20s behind the winner. In August of 2010, he picked up his first international medal at the Pan Pacific Championships in Irvine, finishing third less than three seconds behind the winner.
At the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, Richard finished 17th in both the 5km and 10km events, and followed up by winning the Olympic open water test event in Hyde Park, before snagging the 10km marathon gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara.
In 2012 Richard’s qualification for the Olympics was touch and go until he performed a herculean feat in June’s qualifier in Setubal, Portugal, recovering from losing his goggles in the first 200m, and having to catch up from 49th place. In the subsequent laps, he improved to 23rd, 15th, eighth, fifth, and finally second, a quite remarkable comeback.
His performance in London confirmed his permanent presence amongst the upper echelons of open water swimming by taking the Olympic 10km marathon bronze medal in an extremely tight finish just five seconds behind the winner, and less than two seconds behind the silver medal.
He ended 2012 by being named one of FINA’s top five open water swimmers of the year.
Richard Weinberger can legitimately claim to be a truly all-round Canadian, in the sense that his origins stretch across the breadth of the country. While his father hails from Vancouver in the west, his mother is from the small fishing village of Lawn in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador, while his sister was born just south of that in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For his part, Richard was born in between his parents and sibling, in the delightfully-named town of Moose Jaw in the central prairie province of Saskatchewan.
Canada, however, hasn’t always been home, and it was in Saudi Arabia where he started swimming when his pilot father took a job there. According to Richard, his mother first “threw me in the pool” because he had too much energy. “I have always enjoyed swimming and remember those days when I would get home from school in Saudi Arabia to our complex and jump in our pool,” said Richard. “I think I swam almost every day back then as a 5 year old.”
At the age of seven he joined his first swim team and started swimming competitively. After having moved around with his father’s employment, he eventually moved to Victoria, British Columbia to go to the University of Victoria, where he swims and trains with Ron Jacks at Pacific Coast Swimming. “We are best friends who love each other and never argue,” says Richard of his coach. Like every good Canadian sports enthusiast, Ron loves (ice) hockey and – reveals his protégé – betting on it.
Richard readily acknowledges that winning the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics was a life-changing event, but he’s still kept his feet firmly on the ground at the same time as he’s enjoyed the moment: “Going from pool swimming to becoming Canada’s top male open water swimmer and representing my country at the 2012 Olympics has been a tremendous thrill for me, and being a role model to younger swimmers has brought a responsibility which I gladly accept. It taught me to appreciate and be thankful of the many who came alongside and supported me on my journey.” But above all he understands the fundamentals of swimming and what it’s done for him: “Swimming has taught me discipline, hard work and commitment if I want to succeed.”
Out of the water, he’s a typical young man in his love for candy, going for drives, staying up all night playing video games, and listening to his favorite DJs Above and Beyond and Eminence.
But when asked about other interests and aspirations, his answer is anything but typical or one dimensional, confessing an interest in chemistry, getting his pilot’s license, and “working on those cranes in the shipyards unloading cargo.”
Being the son of a pilot and the grandson of a WWII airman has instilled flying in his blood, and as a hobby he’d enjoy the opportunity to take up passengers in small airplanes. “I have always enjoyed the adrenaline rush of extreme sports and going fast, so I guess it’s natural to enjoy flying too,” he adds.
His interest in chemistry is one that stems from his natural curiosity and is far broader than a narrow definition of the field. “I have always been interested in how things work, and chemistry is the basis that explains many of the body’s movements. More specifically, biochemistry and organic chemistry is linked to how well our body’s muscles work and perform. Our body’s chemistry is linked not only to how well we perform as athletes, but also how well the human body functions as we age. Kinesiology (scientific study of human movement) is a scientific field I am interested in pursuing as a possible career.”
With such diversity in interests and bags full of energy to go with it, there’s little chance of Richard’s life ever being mundane. Then again, he’s already shown us that he’s anything but an ordinary young man.
Name / Lastname: Richard Weinberger
Place/date of Birth: June 7, 1990 / Moose Jaw, SK, CAN
Team / Club: Pacific Coast Swimming
Discipline: Open Water 10 km, 25km and long-distance Freestyle
Coach: Ron Jacks
Place of training: Saanich Commonwealth Place in Victoria, BC
Hobbies: going for drives, playing video games, and listening to music (DJs Above, Beyond, Eminence)