Swimming in last weekend’s 10,000-meter open water event at the Pan American Games, Chip Peterson wasn’t sure how big a lead he had until he reached the last bouy.
Right as he was ready to make the turn for home, with about 250 meters left to swim in the grueling, two-hour race in the Ontario Place West Channel, Peterson felt someone touch his foot. It was Canada’s Richard Weinberger.
“That’s when I moved to break away,” said Peterson.
Peterson, 27, had plenty of experience in open water swimming. He had won the U.S. and world open-water, 10-kilometer championships in 2005. He couldn’t see who was behind Weinberger, but he knew for sure he didn’t want them on his tail.
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The day before Peterson’s race, American Eva Fabian and Venezuelan Paola Perez-Sierra had both clocked in with identical times of 2:03:17.0. It took a long review of videos by the judges to decide Fabian had won.
“I didn’t want to be in a finish like the one for the women the day before,” Peterson said. “Too many things can go wrong when you are in a close finish. You can be in front and lose just by reaching up at the wrong for the touch pad.”
Peterson dug deep for his last bit of energy to pull away from Weinberger and clocked in at 1 hour, 54 minutes, 3.6 seconds last Sunday to claim the gold in the Pan American Games men’s 10-kilometer open water race in Toronto.
Weinberger faded over the last 200 meters and was passed by Peterson’s U.S. teammate David Heron, who finished in 1:54:07.4 to earn the silver. Ecuador’s Esteban Enderica Salgado was third in 1:54:09.2.
“They hung with me, and I was expecting it to be a much closer finish than it was,” Peterson said. “I was very pleased with my ability to fend them off.”
Last weekend’s gold represented the top finish for Peterson since he underwent surgery to remove his colon in 2012 to relieve ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory disease than delivers excruciating abdominal pain and other extremely unpleasant symptoms.
Originally from Pine Knoll Shores, near where his father worked as a marine biologist for the University of North Carolina, Peterson swam for UNC from 2006 to 2010. He still trains in UNC’s Koury Natatorium and helps coach both Tar Heel distance swimmers and N.C. Aquatic Club members.
Last weekend’s gold was Peterson’s third medal in the Pan American Games. In 2007, he won a gold medal in the 1500-meter freestyle pool event and earned silver in 10K open water swim.
At Carolina, Patterson earned a degree in biology in 2010 and his senior year won the Patterson Medal as UNC’s outstanding men’s senior student-athlete year, making him the first men’s swimmer to receive UNC’s top athletics award since Harrison Merrill in 1965. He also was the ACC Men’s Swimming Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2010.
Before attending Carolina, Peterson won the U.S. and world championships in 10 kilometer open water swimming in 2005.
“Chip was a highly accomplished member of the UNC team, excelling in the classroom and pool,” said UNC had coach Rich DeSelm. “He earned many accolades both prior to arriving at UNC as a freshman in 2006 and during his highly successful career at UNC. Our swimmers definitely benefit from Chip’s input.”