By mid-Saturday afternoon, swimmer Ryan Cochrane was tweeting how much he was looking forward to competing for a medal in the men’s 400-metre freestyle. Ninety minutes later, he was out of the race, knocked from the final eight after a successful protest overturned the disqualification of South Korean Park Tae-hwan, a medal favourite in the event.
On a wild opening day at the Olympic swim meet, nothing was odder than Park supposedly false starting his way out of competition only to be reinstated at the expense of Cochrane, whose time was indeed slower than Park’s.
Overall, Park had the fourth-fastest time from the heats, clocking in at three minutes 46.68 seconds. Cochrane was ninth-fastest a 3:47.26. Although Cochrane’s best event is the 1,500-m freestyle, he had planned to be in the final of the 400 and race hard for the podium.
“The time he posted wasn’t fast enough,” said Randy Bennett, the Canadian Olympic team’s head coach. “He’s out of the final by 1/100ths of a second, just like in Beijing. He’s not happy he’s not swimming in the final but he’s moving forward to the 1,500 …”
Minutes after Park was disqualified from his heat, South Korean officials filed a protest that was “backed up the referee then taken to a jury of appeal then brought to a technical committee of FINA,” explained Swimming Canada CEO Pierre Lafontaine.
FINA, swimming’s governing organization, discussed the matter and watched videos of the race. Sources have said, according to its rules, FINA cannot use video tape to over-rule a disqualification. Lafontaine insisted there is nothing in the rule book that states FINA can’t use video, Bennett said he’d “never seen anything like that” when talking about Park’s reinstatement and Cochrane’s ousting. Asked to explain what he meant by that, Bennett replied: “I can’t speak to the process, I left the pool thinking he was in. But it’s like I told him the other day about luck, and I thought luck was on our side.”
Bennett and Lafontaine then went out of their way to insist there was so little they could do – “the committee’s decision is final,” said Lafontaine – they opted instead to get over the issue as quickly as possible. Even the suggestion that FINA and its referees went the extra lap to ensure a two-time Olympic champion was included didn’t sit well with Lafontaine.
“The process is pretty clear,” he said. “These people (race referees, jury and technical committee members) are there because of the quality of their work.”
Cochrane is Canada’s best medal hope in swimming and spoke of his expectations after winning his 400 heat and knocking German world-record holder Paul Biedermann out of medal contention.
“I think my nerves got a little but the best of me,” Cochrane said. “I was shaky in the first half of the race, but it’s super hard to know what your competitors are doing to do. I knew I had to win my heat.
“When I was a little behind at the 150 (point) I knew I had to make my move and I was lucky enough my competitors didn’t.”
Looking ahead to the final, he added: “I thought I went out hard (in the heats) but when I saw my final time I knew I had four, five seconds left in me so I want to calm down a bit and enjoy the experience.”
Cochrane knew of Park’s disqualification and said only, “That’s the Olympics.” Hours later, Park was in, Cochrane was out and the Olympic swim meet carried on.
Park would go on to capture the silver medal.
In the mens' 100-metre breaststroke, Scott Dickens had hoped for a strong performance to become the first Canadian to reach a final here.
The Burlington, Ont., native became the first Canadian to go under a minute in the morning heat (59.85) lowering his national record. In the evening semi-final, he ran out of gas and finished eighth in a time of 1:00.16.