Obituary: Swimming coach Randy Bennett guided Olympic medallist

Swim coach Randy Bennett, who guided Ryan Cochrane to two Olympic medals, died of cancer late Monday night in Victoria. He was 51 years old.

After taking over the Victoria High Performance Centre at Saanich Commonwealth Place, Bennett produced several Olympians. Claremont-grad Cochrane was the most renowned of the group, with bronze and silver medals in the 1,500-metre freestyle at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Summer Olympics, respectively.

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Cochrane is in a training camp in Flagstaff, Arizona, with the rest of Bennett’s Victoria swim group, and did not speak to the media Tuesday, but released a statement.

“We’ve lost a mentor, a visionary, and a friend,” said Cochrane.

“Randy’s ability to fight for what was right is a tenet we must all continue to uphold. He expected nothing except the absolute best from each and every person he touched. Coaching was his passion and his life, and I know he has had a profound impact on my life both in and out of sport. I would not be the athlete or person I am today without him. The values and imagination Randy instilled in all of his athletes will live on and that’s a testament to his love of swimming.”

Bennett’s other Olympians from Saanich Commonwealth Place included Hilary Caldwell, Alec Page and Julia Wilkinson.

“Randy pushed me to be a better version of myself,” said Wilkinson, the retired former Canadian record holder and Commonwealth Games medallist.

“He was always really hard on us, but he needed to be for us to go fast. He cared so much for us. We spent a lot of time together. He was basically our dad. He was always there for us. He wanted us to be not just great swimmers, but great people. He knew each one of us as individuals and understood our personalities.”

Bennett was Canadian head coach at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Glasgow and 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and at three FINA world aquatics championships.

“Randy was an incredible coach who achieved outstanding results on the national and international scenes with his swimmers. He will be sorely missed by the Olympic community, but never forgotten,” said Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut, in a statement.

The news hit the Canadian swimming community hard.

“Randy Bennett was passionate and driven and loved his athletes,” said Ahmed El-Awadi, CEO of Swimming Canada, by phone from Ottawa.

“He inspired them to achieve. He will be deeply missed. We lost a good person and good coach.”

Originally diagnosed as non-small cell lung cancer in February, the diagnosis was later revised to metastatic malignant melanoma.

“[Bennett] has been the go-to guy in my swim career. He is the person I trusted to tell me what he saw,” said Cochrane, when Bennett’s cancer was first announced.

Bennett was giving advice from his hospital bed right through the Canadian trials this month for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games and 2015 FINA world championships in Kazan, Russia, as Cochrane, Caldwell, Page and Jeremy Bagshaw from his Victoria training group qualified.

“It was definitely hard this week not to have Randy close by,” said Cochrane, at the time during the trials in Toronto. “But Randy watched the videos each night and gave us feedback.”

Wilkinson, who was providing the Internet commentary for the trials, recalls Bennett texting her with his observations while the races were going on.

All four Canadian medals at the 2013 FINA world aquatics championships in Barcelona came from Bennett’s swimmers based at Saanich Commonwealth Place — two from Cochrane in the 800 and 1,500 metres, Caldwell in the women’s 200-metre backstroke and Eric Hedlin in the 5K open-water.

“Randy faced cancer, malignant melanoma, with the same tenacity with which he coached,” said national team physician Steve Keeler, in a statement.

“Despite the rapid progression of his disease, Randy remained focused on his family and the athletes he coached. His strength through this journey was impressive.”

Bennett is survived by his wife, Lesley, and teenage sons Brett and Kyle.

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