Swimmer Ryan Cochrane retires after two Olympic medals

Ryan Cochrane, of Victoria, B.C., takes part in a press conference with members of Canada's swimming team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Wednesday Aug. 3, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Ryan Cochrane is ready for his reinvention.

The 28-year-old from Victoria, a consistent medal producer during a thin time for Canada’s swim program, announced his retirement from competition Tuesday. He ends his decorated career with two Olympic medals in the men’s 1,500-metre freestyle — a silver and a bronze — and eight world championship medals, the most by a Canadian swimmer.

"Thinking of stepping away is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make because it’s reinventing yourself, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time," Cochrane said Tuesday on a conference call.

Going from someone who is in the top percentile in the world at something to someone who isn’t can be a difficult transition for athletes as they re-define themselves.

Cochrane, who has started a job working for a software company in Victoria, is tackling that transformation.

"I won’t miss the constant exhaustion and the days you can’t even function you’re so tired all the time," Cochrane said

"I’m going to miss focusing on something that seemed a bit bigger than myself. Being part of the Olympic movement was something I underestimated when I started swimming and that I can’t say enough about now."

He kept Canada’s swimmers on the international radar during lean times the first decade of this century.

Canada was shut out of swimming medals at the 2004 Olympic Games for the first time in four decades. Cochrane’s bronze on the last day of swimming four years later in Beijing prevented another drought.

He’s one of a handful of men to swim under 14 minutes 40 seconds in the 1.5k with a time of 14:39.63 to take silver in London.

With China’s Sun Yang controlling the race by the 500-metre mark, Cochrane waged a duel for silver.

He overtook South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan by the midway point and held off a charging Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia, the 2008 gold medallist, over the final 100 metres.

"I was going to fight, probably to the death, to make sure he didn’t get his hand on the wall first," Cochrane said after that race.

His parents John and Donna were among a dozen supporters cheering him on in London.

"Sharing that with them, winning the medal and seeing them in the front row, was something that makes me so happy to think about," Cochrane says now.

He won a total of four silver and four bronze between 2009 and 2015 in world championship distance freestyle races.

The 1.5k was his forte. Training for, and competing in, the longest race in the pool is physically punishing.

Cochrane says he was "a terrible athlete as a kid", but his late coach Randy Bennett recognized in the swimmer a talent for pushing himself into the red.

The majority of Olympic athletes retire without a gold medal around their neck.

But Cochrane still can’t pinpoint why, after four years of some of the hardest training he’s ever done, he was unable to go under 14:40 again last summer in Rio, where he finished sixth.

"In the middle of my race in Rio, I had the realization things were just not going well and that I would not be able to accomplish what I’d set my last 20 years towards," Cochrane said.

"There’s been a lot of moments in the past six months where I’ve been absolutely heartbroken on how my sport ended for me, but I try not to let that dictate how my entire 20 years is summed up."

Canada’s women had a breakout performance in the Rio pool with six medals, led by Penny Oleksiak and her 100-metre freestyle gold.

"I didn’t get the hardware I was looking for, but one of my favourite experiences was being part of that team and seeing the success and the normalization of Olympic medals," Cochrane said.

"I think the future is very bright."

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