BARCELONA – Motivation can be difficult to muster for veteran athletes in the year following an Olympics. It’s the beginning of another four-year cycle and the goal of an Olympic podium is just a speck in the distance.
Two-time Olympic medallist Ryan Cochrane admits he’s drifted into the doldrums in the past, but he says he won’t have any trouble finding wind for his sails at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona.
“Now that I have a limited number of years left in my career I want to make sure I capitalize on all the chances I get to represent our country,” said the 24-year-old swimmer from Victoria. “The world championships, I really want to perform. That’s really important to me.”
The 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro will likely be Cochrane’s last Olympics. This year’s world championships will allow him to assess what needs to be done to reach his ultimate goal of a gold medal.
“I used to think of the four-year cycles as being exceptionally long, hard to imagine the full four years,” he said. “The faster the years go by, the more you realize they are really not that long. It comes and goes before you know it.”
The long, lean Cochrane heads to Barcelona as one of Canada’s best medal hopes. He will swim the 1,500-metre, 800-m and 400-m freestyle. He won silver in the 1,500 at the 2012 Olympics in London Games and bronze in 2008 at Beijing. He’s also no stranger to the world championship podium. He’s won four medals over the last two events with two silvers in the 1,500 plus a silver and a bronze in the 800.
“Not to count my blessings, but I know how to race those races,” he said. “I’ve been doing them for so many years and I’m very comfortable with those races.”
Randy Bennett, Cochrane’s long-time coach, said the 400-m remains a work in progress.
“He hasn’t got it right yet,” said Bennett, the Canadian team’s head coach. “That’s an event he’s got right once or twice in his career.
“He will be the first to tell you he’s working really hard at trying to figure it out. We’re certainly not giving up on it.”
Cochrane finished ninth in the 400-m at the last two Olympics and was fifth at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai.
“I think this year we put a little more emphasis on the 400,” said Cochrane. “I was pretty upset with my results in London for the 400.
“My 400 has been getting better every world championship. I think that’s why it was so frustrating last year.”
In London, it looked like Cochrane had qualified for the 400-m final until South Korea’s Park Tae-Hwan’s disqualification was overturned. That resulted in Cochrane missing the final by 1/100th of a second.
Neither Park, the Olympic silver medallist, or American Peter Vanderkaay, who took the bronze in London, are expected to swim the 400-m in Barcelona.
“Looking at it on paper it’s a wide-open event,” said Bennett, head coach at the Victoria Academy of Swimming. “He’s got his design on that for sure.”
Like any sport, swimming requires mental strength along with physical power. Cochrane has a degree in psychology from the University of Victoria, something he applies to his swimming.
“I think it allows you to be a little more introspective,” he said. “I don’t know if that is always a good thing.
“I’m a pretty rational person. I do get nervous. I don’t think I get fear very often. I think that is something my psych degree has helped with, developing coping mechanisms. Just being able to see when you are making personal mistakes.”
Canada’s national swim team is going through a transition with veterans like Brent Hayden, Annamay Pierse and Julia Wilkinson retiring. That shifts the leadership role even more on the shoulders of people like Cochrane.
“It’s interesting for me to think how long I have been on the national team,” Cochrane said. “I did, prior to London, lead more through example than actually sitting everybody down and talking about what we want to see as the Canadian team.
“I was comfortable in the role of just swimming fast. I think it needs to be more than that now. But the younger kids that are coming up (have) more imagination than a lot of the senior athletes. I hope that catches on. Hopefully we can teach some of the positives we have experienced but then we also need to take from the younger athletes what it means to be young and have that imagination to start.”