VICTORIA, British Columbia, October 28. THERE’s no doubt, Eric Hedlin wants to be the best in the world. And to achieve that, he headed north to the Victoria Academy of Swimming/National Swim Centre, the home club of all four Canadian swimming medals at the FINA World Championships this past summer.
Hedlin was born in Calgary but grew up in California. Once he completed high school, it seemed but a foregone conclusion he would pursue his sports career and studies at a major American school. But north of the border coach Randy Bennett was guiding Ryan Cochrane to international success with medal performances at the Olympics and world championships in the distance freestyle events – Hedlin’s forte.
“I weighed my options and I liked the program at Victoria,” said Hedlin, 20, who joined the Academy two seasons ago. “I thought they would be able to offer me a lot more. I thought Ryan Cochrane would be a great training partner but then discovered all the other great athletes on the team as well. I’ve really benefitted from being there.
“Everything is geared towards performance and that has made a difference.”
At the FINA World Championships this past summer in Barcelona, Hedlin confirmed he made the right choice: he won the silver medal in the five-kilometre open water race. He even finished ahead of the legendary Thomas Lurz of Germany, a seven-time world champion.
What’s also amazing about the result in Barcelona is that Hedlin only started open water swimming this year. Analysts at the Victoria centre concluded after lactate tests that Hedlin was more distance oriented than he originally thought: he could perform at distances much longer than the 1,500-m freestyle.
He became the third-fastest Canadian ever in the men’s 1,500-metre freestyle at the 2013 World Championships Trials in Victoria. Unfortunately for him the two fastest — Cochrane and Island Swimming teammate Will Brothers — were swimming in the same race and grabbed spots on the national team in maybe the most exciting race of the event.
It was Hedlin’s decision to plunge into the world of open water swimming, and he qualified for worlds by finishing 16th in the 10-kilometre race at the FINA World Cup open water competition in Cozumel, Mexico.
“I had an inkling I could swim longer distances but not to that extent,” said Hedlin, a computer programming student at the University of Victoria. “I talked to Randy about it and I went to the world championship open water trials in Mexico. I was kind of surprised to make the team and then even more surprised with what happened in Barcelona. But I had learned some tactics at trials and I was hoping for a top-12 at worlds.”
A silver medal was obviously beyond expectations.
“I’m really happy about my accomplishments this season,” said Hedlin. “I love open water and I have fun when I compete. It’s a great event to race and there’s so much strategy involved.”
Hedlin continued to compete in the pool as well, winning bronze in the 800-m freestyle at the 2013 Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia. At 20 years old, Hedlin’s career may continue to head north.
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