Ryan Cochrane wants Canadians to aim higher.
The 26-year-old has been Canada’s only swimmer to medal at the past two Olympic Games, winning a bronze at Beijing, then a silver at London, both in the 1,500 metre freestyle.
He hopes his success can inspire his fellow teammates to reach for the podium, and not be shy about it.
“I want to see kids talk about winning medals,” said Cochrane, after a recent morning practice at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. “And I’ve said that for many years because if we can’t talk about it and put it out in the public, we’re not going to be responsible for those goals.”
The attitude of doing more than just showing up to the competition has been taking hold of this country ever since the build-up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
But still, Canada has not been a major player on the elite swimming scene for decades, making Cochrane’s ambitions and achievements stand out all the more.
“He does look big,” said Byron MacDonald, former Canadian Olympic swimmer, who coaches at the University of Toronto and is the long time voice of the sport on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Ryan Cochrane is a guy who when he gets into a race he’s looking to win and only win.
“He’s not sort of looking for the easy way out.”
The swimmers who beat Cochrane for the Olympic gold medal in 2008 and 2012 respectively, have each had run-ins with officials over performance enhancers.
Oussama Mellouli, the Tunisian who won gold in Beijing, had just finished a retroactive two-year ban in time to qualify for those Games, after testing positive for an amphetamine at the 2006 U.S. Open. He was also stripped of two world championship medals.
Sun Yang, the only man faster than Cochrane in London, tested positive for the stimulant trimetazidine in May of 2014.
Having already stated his intention to retire after the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Cochrane is hoping that the new facilities built for July’s Pan Am Games will help foster a worthy successor to his role as Canada’s King of the Chlorine.
“Canada’s been in dire need of a good, world class facility, and we’re lucky in Victoria to have that but, Toronto just, wasn’t able to host big competitions,” said Cochrane, who swims for Island Swimming at the High Performance Centre in B.C. “It’s hard for kids to train in smaller pools and then go to world meets (where), it’s such a different environment.
“It’s cool that they can come here, see what going to World Championships is like and what an Olympic pool is like, and really get motivated to make those teams for the next step.”
While Cochrane might already know when his career will end, it is yet to be seen how these last two years will play out. He’s not exactly old mind you, but swimmers don’t typically hit their peak in their mid-to-late twenties as Cochrane has.
“I do constantly surprise myself that I’m going best-times at 25-26,” he said. “I think it’s really exciting that I can take my experience and focus that and, really, it’s encouraging to see best times at my age.
“But that being said, it’s never easy, the guys keep getting younger and younger that I’m racing.”
Already Canada’s most decorated World Championship swimmer with six medals, Cochrane recently qualified for his fifth World Championships in August.
First though, he hopes to put on a show in Toronto. And hopefully make an impact on the youth here in the GTA.
“I remember in Victoria we had a ton of athletes, Olympic athletes when I was growing up, and just being able to see them and meet them and see that they’re just regular people that train really hard to get to that point I think was one of the most motivating things as a kid,” said Cochrane.
“I was six years old and I thought I could win an Olympic medal because I saw that these people were personable and worked hard, so hopefully I can do that for some kids around this area.”
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