With Oussama Mellouli bearing down fast, Ryan Cochrane admitted he was looking behind him, to four years ago in Beijing.
In that race, on that day of the Olympics, a 19-year-old Cochrane was swimming along believing he was going to finish second in the 1,500-metre freestyle. Instead, the Tunisian Mellouli passed him in the last few metres to take the gold medal.
Saturday night in the London Aquatics Centre, it was a repeat in the pool. With China’s Sun Yang way in front, Cochrane was splashing to the wall with Mellouli closing fast.
Older, wiser and able to recall how disappointed he was in 2008, Cochrane held on for second place with the most complete race of his career. He may have finished almost eight seconds behind Yang, the winner, but Cochrane was openly delighted to have produced his best having learned from Beijing.
“It was a tough fight the last 100 metres but I knew the first half felt so good that I knew I had stuff left in the tank,” said Cochrane, who clocked in at 14 minutes 39.63 seconds. “When (Mellouli) passed me in Beijing I wasn’t expecting it. This time I was expecting it and I was going to fight, probably to the death, he wasn’t going to touch the wall first.”
Cochrane’s medal swim was a testimony to how much he’s improved, both mentally and physically. When the eight finalists lined up for the 1,500, Yang jumped off the blocks early and resurfaced looking confused, indicating there had been too much noise. The race officials agreed and quickly got everyone reset and racing.
Cochrane wasn’t rattled by the false start and worked his way up the ranks from third to second place with five laps to go.
“I kind of assumed he wouldn’t be out,” Cochrane said of Yang. “We prepare for anything. It was such a little thing in the grand scheme of things.”
On the first day of these Olympics, Cochrane experienced something no one had anticipated. After qualifying for the final of the 400 free, he was bumped when South Korean Park Taehwan was reinstated. Park had been wrongly disqualified for a false start. Cochrane wasn’t a strong medal candidate in the 400 but considered it a lost opportunity. He knew he had to shrug it off quickly. His refined goal was to swim the 1,500 hard, leaving nothing to chance.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said of his time, a Canadian record. “Part of me wanted to be vying for that world record, to be five seconds faster. I thought with experience it would be easier (mentally); in the end it was a lot harder. When I was young I felt I could do anything. As the years go and you keep finishing second, you wonder if that’s the best I can do. This year I showed it was second place but I’m still progressing.”
The Canadian swim team had trained and prepared Cochrane to race against Yang, who broke Australian Grant Hackett’s 10-year-old record last summer. In that swim at the world championships, Yang left Cochrane gasping for air. It proved to be a strong motivation for the Victoria native.
“The fact that somebody broke the world record beside him admitted there was more out there and that gave Ryan another perspective on what to do,” said Cochrane’s coach Randy Bennett. “He had the imagination to see himself doing more.”
After winning his silver medal Saturday, Cochrane tossed his bouquet of flowers to his mom Donna, mugged for the cameras and imagined what going even faster will be like.
“To be faster than (he was) four years ago with the suits is fantastic.”