Mon, September 23, 2013

Cochrane hoping to return to podium

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Canadian Olympic swimmer Ryan Cochrane, of Victoria, BC, is one of Canada's only medal hopefuls in the pool. (REUTERS)


LONDON - The shining moments of swimmer Ryan Cochrane’s young life came soon after he climbed the podium in Beijing to collect an Olympic bronze medal.

That he limited the joy and sense of accomplishment to minutes, and not hours and days, tells you a great deal of what you need to know about the young man.

Cochrane was a 19-year-old surprise medallist in the gruelling men’s 1,500-metre freestyle, salvaging what was another wasted meet in the pool for the Canadian team. Celebrate, sure, but as he let the race digest, the Victoria, B.C., native was convinced he left something in the Beijing pool.

“It took pretty much the full four years to be OK with that race,” Cochrane told QMI Agency Wednesday after getting his first look at the London pool where he will compete in the 400m freestyle when competition opens Saturday and the 1,500m free later in the Games.

“I was really hard on myself for faults in that race. Now I know, in retrospect, that some if it was out of my hands. I hadn’t raced that fast in my life and I made the podium. This time, I have to make it a natural progression and make it to the top of that podium.” After being shut out of the medals in Athens eight years ago, the Canadian team was about to leave Beijing with the same underachieving disappointment.

A former world champion, Brent Hayden, wasn’t even able to qualify for the men’s 100m freestyle final and there were no surprise, uplifting performances from others on the team.

But on the final day of the Olympic meet, as the swimming venue was buzzing over American superstar Michael Phelps’ bid for his final historic gold, Cochrane swam what most thought was the race of his life and helped provide a glimmer of optimism for the future.

The notable exception in that opinion, of course, was Cochrane himself.

Given that he is no longer a teenager and the only Canadian swimmer to win an Olympic medal since 2000, Cochrane is a natural leader for the young team competing here. He’s not shy about leading by example in and out of the pool and, as a result, there seems to be a shifting attitude among the team that suffered from a crisis in confidence and competence for so long.

Swimming Canada has targeted three medals from these Games. While the medal haul isn’t expected to be prolific, that goal is ambitious but not necessarily outlandish.

Hayden is back for another kick at the 100m free and as a former world champion will have to be respected. And there are are others who could sneak into contention.

“I think it’s great, because I think everyone on our national team talks about winning now,” said Cochrane, who like most of the Canadian swimmers will pass on Friday’s opening ceremony to rest up for competition. “Four years ago, everyone talked about it being a rebuilding year. That’s not the way it is anymore. The attitude is an inherent want to succeed rather than talking about what you want to avoid. You can kind of talk yourself out of things if you word them negatively.”

To that end, Cochrane is following his own lead.

While the 1,500m will be the obvious focus for those outside of his head, Cochrane truly believes he can also snare a medal in the 400 on the opening day of the Games. He was ninth in Beijing, just missing out of qualifying for the final. At last year’s world championship in Shanghai, he was fifth.

“Four years ago, the 400 was a bonus event for me, but I don’t see it that way this time,” Cochrane said. “Last year’s (world championship) showed it could go any which way. It was really a slow final compared to previous years and I was a second off the third-place time, which in that race is nothing.

“My turns were horrendous and I’ve really focused on those in the last six months. You can find a second within that.” His teammates, meanwhile, are finding much more. They see an athlete who is a leader in so many of the right ways: Attitude, work ethic and accomplishment.

“Watching him train is so motivating,” says Toronto teenager Brittney MacLean, who is about to make her Olympic debut. “Ryan makes everyone believe they can do it, too. As Canadians, we want to bring ourselves up in the world of swimming. We’re raising the a bar a little bit now and Ryan is a big part of that.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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