Olympian Ryan Cochrane speeding toward a big finish

Move over rowing and triathlon.

Coach Randy Bennett has managed to turn the Island into an epicentre for swimming, with many of the Canadian pool performers for the 2014 Commonwealth Games this summer in Glasgow likely to come from Bennett’s training group at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

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And when you give them home-pool advantage — as they will have today through Saturday at Commonwealth Place in the Canadian trials for the 2014 Commonwealth Games — the edge becomes even more pronounced for Island swimmers such as Ryan Cochrane, Hilary Caldwell, Alec Page, Eric Hedlin and Will Brothers.

A total of 503 swimmers from 104 clubs will be trying to punch their tickets to Glasgow, and also the 2014 Pan Pacific championships in Brisbane, over the next four days. The qualifying rounds are each morning at 10 a.m., followed by finals each evening at 6 p.m. at Saanich Commonwealth Place. Tickets are $5 for qualifying rounds and $10 for finals, or $40 for full trials pass.

Of the Island stars, no other commands the attention of Cochrane. The scary thing is that even after his Olympic silver and bronze medals, six world championships medals and two Commonwealth Games golds, the Victorian is still improving.

“Even at 25, I’m constantly getting better and doing best times,” said Cochrane, who will swim the 400- and 1,500-metre freestyle events at the trials.

“Even though I’m not 17 anymore and can’t bounce back as quickly, I feel I’m still getting stronger and more technically efficient.”

This, however, will be the final of three career Commonwealth Games leading to his final of three Olympics in 2016 as Cochrane plans to hang up the Speedo after Rio. He will finish off his psychology degree at UVic and pursue a career in business. There’s a sort of farewell tour feel to these final two years as his swim career comes full circle — his first major multi-sport event was the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

“Melbourne was my first, and I never looked back after that,” said the Claremont Secondary graduate.

“It has seemed like a short eight years since then.”

Cochrane admits he couldn’t have anticipated the impact he would have, although he did allow: “I always had that bravado from a young age when I would dream of being a pro athlete.”

Cochrane was six years old when Aussie great and two-time Olympic-champion Kieren Perkins set the world record in winning the gold medal in the 1,500 freestyle at Commonwealth Place during the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games.

Twenty years after Perkins, Victoria’s Cochrane has left his own mark as he came out of the Saanich facility. How’s that for legacy investment?

“We really push each other in this pool, and we also train alongside the triathletes and divers here in Victoria who are the best in their field,” noted Cochrane.

None in Canadian pools has been better than Cochrane in the longer distances. That’s the true legacy he will leave post-Rio.

“I was inspired by those who came before me and I always wanted to leave something for future generations,” he said.

“It’s exciting to see the potential of the Canadian team.”

That encompasses Cochrane’s training mates at Saanich Place, who include 2013 world-championship medallists Caldwell and Hedlin, Olympian Page and the emerging Brothers, who all have Glasgow firmly in their sights this summer. Other top national swimmers at the Games trials include Martha McCabe, Brittany MacLean, Katerine Savard and Noemie Thomas.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

Twitter.com/tc_vicsports

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