RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Olympic men’s 1,500-metre final did not go according to script for Ryan Cochrane, the long-time saviour of Canadian swimming.
The two-time Olympic medallist was sixth at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in 14 minutes 49.61 seconds. The women’s 4×100-metre medley relay finished fifth in 3:55.49, setting a new Canadian record.
Canada completes pool swimming in Rio with 15 finals and six medals (1G-1S-4B), more than doubling its 2012 Olympic output of seven finals and two medals (1S-1B).
Cochrane (Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Victoria / Victoria) was in Lane 1 on Saturday. Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri broke away early to grab the gold in 14:34.57, with the United States’ Connor Jaeger (14:39.48, silver) outdistancing Italy’s Gabriele Detti (14:40.86, bronze).
“I think (the heat) yesterday was really frustrating because it felt really hard,” Cochrane said. “I knew I needed to get my mind right and really trust the work I have done all year. I think the frustrating part was that this was the best turning I have done all year. I did not think that at 27 years old I’d be able to do it. It’s really hard to come here and have it not transfer to the results.
“[On Friday] I overkicked my race and paid for it in the last 500 [metres],” Cochrane explained. “Today the plan was to have higher tempo and do what we’ve done all year. The first half was exactly what we have planned for, but I didn’t have that lift, I didn’t have anything left at the end. In a way that’s a slight positive knowing I didn’t wait till it was too late but at the same time, what do you do when it’s four years of training and it doesn’t pay off?”
Cochrane was Canada’s salvation in swimming for nearly a decade. Working with his mentor, the late Randy Bennett, Cochrane broke a medal shutout with a bronze in Beijing in 2008 and added the silver in 2012. Over the past year, he and coach Ryan Mallette tweaked his program to try to get on the podium.
“It was all about building confidence this year. In previous years I got really stuck at second place so I knew I needed to do something completely different. All year long, I was trying to trust the program we were doing. It was so much better. I built my confidence every day. I knew that I had that chance. And we’ve had so much support that I felt it was my responsibility. I think I let a lot of people down and I think I let myself down.
“I didn’t try to think about that,” Cochrane said when asked if he wanted to earn a medal to honour the memory of Bennett, also a coach of backstroke bronze medallist Hilary Caldwell (HPC – Victoria / White Rock, B.C.).
“All year I thought the motivator was ‘this is your last chance.’ Today that made me very nervous. Instead I tried to trust all of the people involved in getting us there. I had the right mindset, it just didn’t pay off.”
Cochrane said he was “humbled” by the notion that his successes made this week’s run of medals seem more attainable. Sixteen-year-old Penny Oleksiak (HPC – Ontario / Toronto) has become a national hero after becoming the first Canadian quadruple medallist in a single Summer Games.
“It makes my medal seem significant seeing what Penny has done this meet alone. For years and years we’ve talked about winning. This team was here to win medals. It’s pretty fantastic to see we have caught up.”
“IT MAKES MY MEDAL SEEM SIGNIFICANT SEEING WHAT PENNY HAS DONE THIS MEET ALONE. FOR YEARS AND YEARS WE’VE TALKED ABOUT WINNING. THIS TEAM WAS HERE TO WIN MEDALS. IT’S PRETTY FANTASTIC TO SEE WE HAVE CAUGHT UP.”
Over eight nights in the pool, Canada illustrated that a top-to-bottom overhaul of the national team program is getting results.
“We talk about the culture, not fearing anybody, being able to stand up to anybody in the world,” Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson said. “I think on the first day, when the women’s freestyle relay did what they did, it started this belief within the team. Five women on Day 1 had a medal. That’s really powerful. That shows to everyone else – ‘do what you normally do, get up and race, there are opportunities there.’
“The progression from heats to semifinals to finals was almost double from London. That makes an impact on the whole team.
“It’s easy to build something – it’s harder to stay there,” Atkinson said in reference to carrying momentum into the 2020 Olympic cycle. “What took three years to build can go away very quickly. We can’t miss a day, we can’t miss a month.”
The medley relay of backstroker Kylie Masse (Windsor Essex Swim Team / LaSalle, Ont.), breaststroker Rachel Nicol (Lethbridge Amateur Swim Club / Lethbridge, Alta.), Oleksiak on butterfly and Chantal Van Landeghem (HPC – Ontario / Winnipeg) lowered the Canadian record they set in Friday’s heat.
However, Oleksiak’s individual success was the farthest thing from her mind afterward.
“Coming in here I didn’t think I was going to medal as much as I did and have the times that I did,” Oleksiak said. “I’m pretty proud of my races. I couldn’t have asked for more. It’s just going to be really hard to let go of this race, knowing that I had five other girls [the other three plus Taylor Ruck and Noemie Thomas, who raced in the heat] hoping that I come through. It’s going to be tough, but I know I’ll get past it one day.”
The United States won the gold in 3:53.13. Australia, in an even 3:55, grabbed the silver by a sliver over Denmark, who came in 3:55.01.
“It was a solid relay,” Atkinson said. “They gave it a 100 per cent effort and you can’t fault it.”
Third-time Olympian Stéphanie Horner of Beaconsfield, Que., will represent Canada in women’s open water swimming on Monday. Richard Weinberger of Moose Jaw, Sask., is expected to be a contender in the men’s open water race on Tuesday.