By Jim Morris
This summer’s Commonwealth Games will be the first of many lasts for Ryan Cochrane.
The Olympic medallist from Victoria plans to retire after the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. As a result, Cochrane will spend the next couple of years saying farewell to events like the Commonwealth Games, which begin in Glasgow later this month.
“I want to take excitement from that,” said the 25-year-old. “This is your last chance at a level like this so why not try to make the most of it.
“That’s the attitude I try to have every year. There is a little added extra pressure this time around.”
A veteran of two Olympic Games and three world championships, Cochrane will have young Australian swimmers like 18-year-old Mack Horton challenging him.
“They are posting some really fast times,” said Cochrane. “They will be pretty hard to beat. They have the bravado of being (a teenager) and being one of the best in the world.
“I think that’s good. It will push the event faster.”
Cochrane’s first Commonwealth Games was in 2006 in Melbourne, Australia. In his first appearance on a senior national team he finished fifth in the 1,500 metres.
“I had never been to Australia before swimming, a country where that is a marquee sport,” he said. “I remember walking out from the stands and there were 15,000 people watching.
“It was exhilarating. It was pretty exciting to see that kind of kind of emotion behind swimming.”
Since then Cochrane has gone on to win two Olympic and six world championship medals. He believes those first Games in Melbourne – the experience of being part of a bigger Canadian team while living and eating in an athletes village environment – proved to be a valuable learning tool.
“I think it’s a very good stepping stone,” he said. “The experience of being around all these other athletes. Having to eat not in a hotel or a controlled environment. Having to walk everywhere.
“It’s just little things. When you are at the Olympics you want to make sure you have mastered everything, be ready for everything. Having a quick walk through is helpful.”
The 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, were challenging on many fronts. The Games were held in October, past when the usual summer swim season ends. The event also faced organizational and logistical problems. There were concerns about the food, cleanliness and athlete safety.
Undeterred, Cochrane swam to gold in the 1,500 and 400-m freestyle.
“The most exciting part about winning in Delhi was, amid all the other problems and distractions, to be able to get success and race hard was exciting,” he said.
“It was a good practice to go to an environment where everything was not perfect by any means. Your main focus was still on racing. I think it’s one of those experiences where you just want to get your hand on the wall first.”
The six-day swim meet at this year’s Games begins July 24. Besides the 400 and 1,500, Cochrane has decided to compete in the 200-m freestyle.
“I’d like to see what results I can get swimming in a really prepared state,” Cochrane said. “I never really get a chance to swim the 200 unless it’s in a trials.
“I just think it’s another chance to swim, another chance to show some of the speed I have been working on. It’s a six-day meet so an extra event isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”
Cochrane also wants to improve on his 400-m performance at the London Olympics where he missed the final by 1/100th of a second.
“I was pretty unsatisfied with my results from London in the 400,” he said. “Just due to bad circumstances and bad racing on my part, it just didn’t happen.
“I have been trying to focus on that part of it. I like to take my races out fast and push on the first half of the race, which a lot of my competitors don’t like to do.”
Cochrane is one of many Canadian swimmers who will barely have time to catch his breath before competing at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, which begin Aug. 21 in Gold Coast, Australia.
“I think the ideal situation for me is to really focus on the Commonwealths, focus on getting the best results I can, then re-evaluate after that and go into the Pan Pacs with an optimistic attitude,” he said.
“I don’t want to discount the first one knowing I have to go to a second competition.”
Knowing it’s his last Commonwealth experience, Cochrane plans to take some time to soak up the atmosphere in Glasgow. His parents are making the trip and will be in the stands cheering for him.
“It’s always fun to be able to share these experiences with them,” he said.
Cochrane laughs when he recalls the nervous teenager who stepped onto the starting blocks eight years ago in Melbourne.
“I’m not so much the quiet member on the team as when I first started,” he said. “That’s an exciting place to be.
“We have a fantastic team going this summer. The team is definitely going in the right direction and I’m proud to be leading them this time.”