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Richard Weinberger swims into Canadian mainstream with marathon bronze

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LONDON – He hadn't slept before his race. He hadn't showered since his race. He walked into a media conference room in bare feet, still wearing his swimsuit under his skinny jeans, still wearing temporary tattoos of "21" on the backs of his hands, as if he were still in his race.

Welcome to the Olympics. One moment, you're Richard Weinberger, a happy-go-lucky 22-year-old Canadian university student. The next, you're a bronze medallist.

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Richard Weinberger enjoys his first moments of Olympic fame with his bronze medal. (Getty)

"I didn't know it was like this," Weinberger said Friday night in the Main Press Centre at Olympic Park, about five hours after finishing third in the men's 10-kilometre marathon swim. "Again, this is the first time that anyone has cared about me winning a race, to be honest. I didn't win, so I thought I'd have a chance to go back to the hotel even for five minutes. But I guess not."

He smiled, his medal draped around his neck, his leg shaking underneath the table because, somehow, he still had to burn off excess energy.

"It's actually pretty fun," he said. "I wish I was in some underwear instead of a size 26 [swimsuit], but having fun."

Four years ago, when the marathon swim made its debut in Beijing, Weinberger had no plans to go to London. He was 18 years old, headed to the University of Victoria. "I was some goofy, scrawny little kid just wanting to be a varsity swimmer," he said. A teammate was training in open water and kicking his butt. So he left the pool and started kicking butt himself.

Weinberger is like a walking shot of espresso. "I'm crazy," he said. "I'm telling you right now: I don't need caffeine. It's all natural. I don't ever stop moving." He can't keep weight on his 6-foot, 159-pound body, despite downing large McDonald's vanilla milkshakes before bed. He powers through training – never less than eight kilometres a day, as much as 100 kilometres a week – without sleeping like a normal human being.

For a couple months, he might be fine, going to bed at 11 p.m. or midnight. Other times, he might go to bed at 2 a.m., wake up for a 6 a.m. workout and then not nap all day. "I went two weeks where it was, like, no sleep for four days, and then I would binge sleep, and then I wouldn't sleep for three days," Weinberger said. "It was so difficult with training."

[Photos: Richard Weinberger swims to bronze medal in men's 10km marathon]

Still, Weinberger has made it look easy. His coach, Ron Jacks, said he has a knack for knowing where everyone is in the race and having a feel for the pace he needs to set. He is also so comfortable – and so hyper – he likes to talk to his competitors during the race.

Seriously. Between strokes, he might look over and ask somebody how it's going, psyching them out.

"It doesn't bother him at all, but it might drive everyone else up the wall," Jacks said. "I wouldn't coach somebody to do that, but if it's something that's easy for them to do, I think it can get under the skin of people."

Last August, Weinberger won the test event in the Serpentine, the lake in London's Hyde Park, and visualized the course every day afterward. Race after race, he finished in the top three. He won the last World Cup event before the Olympics.

And then came Friday – or Thursday night, to be exact.

"My day started at 10:45 p.m. last night," he said.

[Also: Several Canadian athletes announce London Games will be their final Olympics]

Weinberger said he never sleeps before a big race, so he wasn't going to sleep before the biggest race of his life. Not a wink. He tried to calm himself. He logged onto his laptop at a Holiday Inn near Hyde Park and laughed at silly cat videos.

Seriously. Silly cat videos.

"It just cracks me up," he said. "Cats … I've got a soft spot."

Weinberger headed down to the park at 10 a.m. and jumped into the lake at noon. This is an almost two-hour swim. To put that in perspective, the longest pool swim, the 1,500 free, takes almost 15 minutes. The athletes have to eat and drink on the fly, just like marathon runners, except they're in the water.

Two keys: Weinberger joined the four-man group that pulled away from the pack, and just before the final turn, he moved away from Greece's Spyridon Gianniotis, the reigning world champion. He finished in 1:50:00.3, behind Tunisia's Oussama Mellouli (1:49:55.1) and Germany's Thomas Lurz (1:49:58.5).

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"Richard's an extremely talented racer," Jacks said. "I could not find a mistake he really made today."

After the bronze came the blur. He was taken for routine drug tests until 4:30 or 5 p.m. Then, like all Canadian medallists, Weinberger went on an immediate media tour. He was whisked to the International Broadcast Centre for TV and radio interviews. Then he was whisked to the Main Press Centre for more interviews. He tried to wear a pair of new shoes, but he had no socks and they gave him blisters, so he just took them off. His feet looked like flippers.

At about 8 p.m., he still had four more hours of commitments. He was headed to Canada House to be celebrated, see his parents for the first time and do more interviews. An official planned to stop at a store to buy him some underwear and socks.

Eventually, he was going to return to the Athletes' Village, and he said he was tired. But would he go to sleep? After winning a bronze medal? When he's already talking about turning bronze into gold four years from now in Rio de Janeiro?

"Well, I had 400 milligrams of caffeine in my race," he said, smiling, "so I don't think so."

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