Swimming in the Fast Lane: Meet Ryan Cochrane, Canadian Records Holder

Ryan Cochrane will head to Beijing as part of a 27-member Canadian swim team. There, the Victoria native will be one of Canada’s best hopes for a medal in 1,500-metre freestyle. He holds Canadian records for three events, adding one record and trouncing one of his own at the Olympic trials in Montreal last month.

You now hold three Canadian records, for the 400, 800 and 1,500-metre
freestyle. What does that mean to you? How did you do it?

It has definitely taken years of work to get to this point in my career, but getting the records is just the beginning. When I was younger, I learned that I enjoyed making short-term goals more than longer ones, because it allowed me to feel success and learn to deal with it. I could evaluate my goals more frequently. I’ve been with the same coach for six years, and we have built a very good working relationship. This has greatly influenced my success, and we are both very excited for this summer. We both believe great things may happen.

What were the Canadian Olympic Swim Trials like? How do you feel about the Canadian team overall?

It was like no other meet. The nervousness I felt, along with all of the other swimmers at the meet, was nothing I could have prepared for. I was far more nervous for trials than I was even for the World Championships last year. I think everyone felt the pressure, and many people were able to step up with unbelievable performances. The team going into Beijing is younger than expected but at the same time very prepared. We can’t wait to compete and show the world how fast we can truly be.

What are keys to your success in the pool this summer in Beijing?

Training has been going very well for me, especially training with my coach Randy, and here in Victoria, with Island Swimming. I think the training will continue to become harder and more difficult, but it is only part of it. If I pay attention to the little things, I think I will meet great success this summer – things such as my nutrition, sleeping habits, and sports psyche. Also, I am very lucky to have a strong support network here at home, and just having my parents and friends all rallied behind me will help me compete to the best of my abilities.

How did you first get into swimming?

I first started at age nine, due to problems with my feet. I had very flat feet and incidentally had a hard time running and playing a lot of land sports. Not only did swimming help ease the pressure I felt from running, but I also excelled at it early.

How and when did you decide to swim competitively?

I have a twin brother and growing up, everything seemed to be a competition. We both did swimming lessons, and when I tried a summer camp that was run through my club, I never looked back. Swimming was something I loved, and my brother and I always competed at the lessons, so competitive swimming wasn’t really new to me.

Take us through the training and effort it takes to be an Olympian on the national swim team.

Each week I swim about 60 to 70 km. Usually my day starts at 6:15 a.m., when I head to morning practice. This semester I chose to take off school, so I swim 7 to 9 a.m., then usually come home and have some free time. At 1 p.m. I head back to the pool and do dry-land until 3. I swim from 3 to 5 p.m. and repeat this fantastic process every day except for Sunday. I had a hard time when I was taking classes to balance everything, but I’m really happy to now just be focusing on training for the next four months, up until Beijing. I have no problem doing the work in and out of the pool; it’s the mental aspect of the sport that takes the most effort. The hardest part of my day is waking up, knowing I’m going to have to jump in the cold pool, and have to swim another monotonous set. For this I tell myself, “This is how you got to where you are in your career, so this is what you know you need to do.”

In the midst of a race, what do you think about?

I get asked this question a lot, and I always have a hard time answering it. I think about racing during my entire race, whether against competitors or against the clock. I always have things to work on while I swim, like better stroke count, higher tempo and better turns, so I usually cycle through a checklist of things. I also try to think about the race strategy my coach and I put together.

Are you aware of anything around you, like the crowd or competitors?

Depending on the clarity of the pool, I can sometimes see my competitors. I can always see the people directly beside me, but occasionally the people I need to beat are eight lanes away. I can only hear the crowd if they are really loud. Fans tend to get excited near the end of my races, which is great, because I start to hear them when I’m hurting the most.

How, exactly, does one swim fast?

I have been swimming for about 10 years, and I’d say that training is probably the biggest factor. As much as I cannot stand training some days, I know that the continuous laps back and forth down the pool do directly lead to my results. When talking to younger swimmers, I always emphasize the importance in having a strong competitive drive. When I was an age-group swimmer, I liked to race everyone. I found that force pushed me to always accomplish more in training, and helped me race faster in big meets.

What sort of diet do you keep?

I have worked with nutritionists but found that a highly structured diet was too hard to follow. I now don’t follow a structured diet, but I do try to eat very healthy. The biggest thing I watch for is overeating or under-eating during heavy months of training. As long as I feel good in the water, all I plan on doing is continuing to eat good foods – lots of fruits and veggies.

What is your outlook for your first Olympic Games?

(With the Olympic Games drawing near), I am starting to visualize my swims, and the overall Olympic experience. I am not nervous now, but I know when the team gets together and the expectations begin to mount, I will start to freak out. After our trials last month, I can honestly see myself having a chance at a medal this summer, and that prospect for me is extremely exciting. I expect to be nervous and excited, but I also expect myself to perform very well – and better my Canadian records in both my swims (400 and 1,500-metre freestyle).