Well-comported and well-decorated with Olympic and Commonwealth games medals, Ryan Cochrane can come off as one of the nicer guys in Canadian sport. And so he should.
The model citizen was recently named Swimming Canada’s OMEGA Male Swimmer of the Year for the seventh straight time for winning gold in the 1,500-metre and 400m (long course) freestyle events at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and bronze in the 1,500m (short course) World Championship. It was another big year for the former Claremont secondary student, who also completed a major in psychology at the University of Victoria this year. His words are calculated and intelligent.
But by no means is Cochrane without an edge, one that’s intertwined with his deep desire to succeed.
At 26, Cochrane has become the elder statesman among Swimming Canada’s athletes, and he’s not done yet, having embarked on a two-month training block to start the year. His aim is to win gold at the 2015 FINA long course (50-metre) World Championship in August with an eye on the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I said 2016 will be my last Olympics, Tokyo 2020 is a little too far out, but I never said the Rio Olympics would be my last meet.”
In terms of expectations, it’s best to let Cochrane decide for himself. He was “disgusted” at himself following his first Olympic bronze in the 1,500m freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games, at just 19 years of age. He won silver in the 1,500m freestyle at the 2012 Olympics and simple logic would suggest, if he is still improving, that yet another podium finish awaits him in the 1,500m of Rio de Janeiro 2016. Perfomance will dictate his post-Rio career.
“I constantly surprise myself, I didn’t think my later 20s would be my best years because the general age of peaking is 20 to 22, but I do have an expectation that this should be my best year,” he said.
Case in point, Cochrane was sixth in the men’s 400m freestyle (3:39.29) at the FINA short course (25m) World Swimming Championships in Qatar last month. Turning, or tumbling, is not Cochrane’s strength, and rarely does he medal in the short course events. However, at just 0.19 seconds off his national record pace from 2009, Cochrane is looking fit. He did manage bronze in the short course 1,500m in Qatar, though he admits in the 25m pool he could probably do away with some of the swimming technique that makes him so powerful in the longer 50m course.
“Turning is different, and it means there’s less finesse needed in the stroke because you don’t deteriorate as much in the 25m,” Cochrane said. “I’m a pretty technical athlete so in the 25m it’s almost like you should be putting more importance on tempo or cadence rather than how nice it looks. I could get better at it eventually but … to be in that kind of shape only a couple months into the season is awesome.”
One thing that’s consistent for Cochrane, either on short course or long, is his running mates on the podium. Cochrane, Chinese star Sun Yang, Tunisian Oussama Mellouli and Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri will be the favourites in the 1,500m at this summer’s long course World Championships in Kazan, Russia, which runs from Aug. 5 to 16.
Yang made headlines recently for taking the banned substance Trimetazidine (TMZ) earlier in 2014. It wasn’t just the fact he used a performance enhancing drug, but the way Cochrane and other swimmers found out about it.
TMZ is used to treat angina pectoris, a coronary issue. It was added to the banned list in 2014 as it was believed to improve performance but was dropped again for 2015. However, the Chinese athletic administration didn’t release the news that Yang had tested positive until November, six months after it was discovered. Yang was suspended three months, but that time already been served.
“Going forward we want more transparency in those cases, which is not how it stands now,” Cochrane said. “In Canada, it’s released immediately. … This was all a bit secretive, which isn’t good for anyone,” he said.
Controversy aside, 2015 begins for Cochrane in Surfer’s Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast, with a hard training block.
“Being on top of the podium isn’t something I’ve done very often and I want more of that. I’m focused on the World Championships. The bravado you can gain going into the Olympics is one of the most important things you can do.”