Canadian swimmer Ryan Cochrane admits that in the past he might have been searching for a level of perfection that wasn’t there.
He won bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and added silver four years later in London. Cochrane is using a new approach this season as he tries to finally get to the top step of the Olympic podium.
“It’s almost a Zen-like attitude,” the Victoria native said. “It’s not about blood in the water and having to attack these things. It’s just trusting in yourself that you’ve done the work and I know I have.”
Cochrane has reached the podium eight times (four silver, four bronze) at the world championships — a Canadian record. He has won gold at the Commonwealth Games, Pan Pacific Games and the Pan Am Games but world and Olympic titles have remained elusive.
“In 2012, I felt like I was talking myself into being able to win,” Cochrane said. “In the back of my mind, I was just a little too far off of probably being able to do that. This time around, I’ve surprised myself that at 27 years old I’m still getting best times in practice.
“Ten years on, to still be progressing, I think is a best-case scenario obviously. It really I think can only mean good things for Rio.”
First up is this week’s Olympic Trials at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Cochrane won gold here last summer in the 1,500-metre freestyle and the 400 free.
“We know that this is a necessary step to make the team,” he said. “We have a chance to put up times that are hopefully the best in the world now and then go back to work for a couple months.”
This will likely be the last Olympics for the Victoria swimmer. He made his international debut with the senior team a decade ago.
“I know how badly he wants that Olympic gold,” said friend and teammate Hilary Caldwell. “But he’s been in the top two or three in the world for eight or nine years now. That’s pretty incredible.”
The six-foot-three Cochrane appeared loose and relaxed after a one-hour training session Monday morning.
“My self-belief has kind of wavered in previous years because I got second so many times that you start to create a little bit of self doubt — ‘Is first place possible?,'” he said. “But I think this year I’ve just been excited to live in the moment and appreciate this opportunity to go to another Olympic Games.”
Other top swimmers to watch this week include Caldwell and West Vancouver’s Emily Overholt. Caldwell, from Victoria, won world bronze in the 200-metre backstroke in 2013 while Overholt finished third in the 400 IM at last year’s world championship.
Aurelie Rivard and Benoit Huot headline the list of competitors in the para-swimming trials. Rivard won six gold medals at the Parapan Am Games last year while Huot is a 19-time Paralympic medallist.
Cochrane, meanwhile, has been able to focus more on his swimming since completing his psychology degree at the University of Victoria in 2014.
His training routine has changed as well. He has been working with coach Ryan Mallette since the passing of longtime coach Randy Bennett a year ago.
“The upside to this year is he’s really taken control of what he believes we should be doing,” Cochrane said. “I think it’s not going against all the work we’ve done in the past but it’s exciting to think he brings something new to the table. We need him to be as passionate and trusting in the work that we’re doing as we are.
“I think he’s really done that this year.”
Mallette, who coached in Montreal before spending three years working with Bennett as a talent development coach, said he has tinkered with Cochrane’s workload this season.
“We did more volume than he’s done in a long time,” he said. “We swam more metres, we swam harder with longer workouts than we have in a long time and we really feel it’s going to pay off.
“He’s more confident than I’ve seen him in a while and he’s just excited to race and see where we are right now.”
Competition begins Tuesday and continues through Sunday. The Rio Games begin Aug. 5.