Since winning bronze four years ago in Beijing, Cochrane’s main motivation for the London Olympics was to swim his best ever time — and to win a medal, of course.
The Canadian accomplished both those things.
The Victoria swimmer captured silver in the men’s 1,500-metre final on Saturday in London, finishing in a time of 14 minutes, 39.63 seconds. It was his best time since clocking a 14:40.84 during the preliminaries of the 1,500m in Beijing.
China’s Sun Yang, the 2011 world champion, broke his own world record after finishing in 14:31.02, lowering his time by more than three seconds. Tunisian Oussama Mellouli, the 2008 Olympic gold medallist, reached the last podium spot in 14:40.31.
Cochrane, along with Sun and Park Tae-hwan of South Korea, was actually under world-record pace during the first portion of the race.
"It's a double-edge sword because I wanted to be vying for that world record," said Cochrane. "I wanted to be five seconds faster. I think I did underestimate how hard the mental side of this meet would be."
Cochrane made a wise decision not to try and keep up with the remarkable Sun, who beat the Canadian by more than 10 seconds at the world championships. Instead, he decided to focus solely on the charging Mellouli because he knew Park, who finished a distant fourth, would eventually fade.
The 23-year-old worked well within the framework of his game plan, displaying great endurance throughout the grueling race. As the swimmers headed toward the last 100 metres and the final bell rang — the area of the race which Cochrane calls the “Bell of Angels” — the Canadian was in strong enough form to hold off Mellouli.
"It was a tough fight the last 100 metres," Cochrane said. "I was going to fight, probably to the death, to make sure he didn't get his hand on the wall first."
CBC Sports swimming expert Byron MacDonald explains that Cochrane was better prepared to handle Mellouli than in their first Olympic confrontation at the Beijing Olympics.
“The great ones learn,” MacDonald said of Cochrane. “Really it was all about Mellouli and Ryan. Four years ago at the two-thirds mark of the race, Mellouli made a move and Ryan didn’t respond. Mellouli went by him and went on to win the gold medal.
“This time at the two-thirds mark, Ryan had a little bit bigger lead and when Mellouli started to move, Ryan didn’t let him. In the last 25 metres Mellouli put on a furious charge and tried to close that half of body length [lead] and he only got to a quarter, and Ryan was able to out-touch him. Four years ago, Ryan didn’t know how to do that. Now he knows how to do it and that’s why he got the silver medal over Mallouli.”
It was the second medal in the pool for Canada — the most since three were earned at the 1996 Atlanta Olympis. Mission, B.C., native Brent Hayden took home a bronze medal in the men's 100m freestyle on Wednesday.
Disaster nearly buried Sun before the event began. With the swimmers on the blocks, the starter directed the competitors to “stand down,” causing a confused Sun to dive into the pool.
Some anxious moments ensued as Sun was waiting to see if he would be disqualified. Fortunately, the referee gave the Chinese star a second chance.
"I could not hear the judge because there was noise in the venue," Sun said through an interpreter. "I thought I was going to be disqualified. I have done well because I was in very good shape. I really wanted this gold medal."
Sun also won a gold medal in the men’s 400m freestyle on the opening day of the swimming competition.