By Nathan Sager (@naitSAYger)
TORONTO – Ryan Cochrane took a shot at a sub-15 men’s 1,500-metre freestyle as a finale at the Canadian Olympic & Para-swimming Trials on Sunday.
The two-time Olympic medalist nearly broke that barrier, winning in 15 minutes 0.75 seconds as he became the lone Canadian representative at Rio 2016 in men’s 1,500 free. Cochrane’s club mate at Island Swimming Club in Victoria, B.C., former world championships bronze medalist Hilary Caldwell, became a second-time Olympian by swimming the season’s fourth-fastest women’s 200 backstroke, posting 2:07.96 while Dominique Bouchard also qualified with a 2:08.52 200 back.
“It’s a hard process,” Cochrane, 28, told CBC Sports in a pool deck interview. “I’ve always said about the 1,500, it hurts so bad [physically] that you need to hear that crowd.
“Some of the swims we saw here are unbelievable,” Cochrane added. “I think if you can post those times in April, you can expect Olympic medals. It’s pretty exciting. I think our women have been so good for such a long time but have just missed Olympic medals.”
Caldwell capturing 200 back gave Canada an Olympic team of 27. In a final where four women went under the Olympic qualifying standard, Caldwell and Bouchard repeated their Pan Am Games finish, with the former hanging on strongly over the last length.
“The time [2:07.96] was pretty good – the last 50 [meters] hurt pretty badly but I am happy,” said Caldwell, who was 18th in women’s 200 backstroke at the 2012 Olympics.
The win assuaged a tense week for Caldwell. The backstroke specialists, had a three-day lag between races. After her third-place 100 backstroke on Wednesday, the former Canadian swimmer of the year had to watch several of her contemporaries earn spots before she could get another shot. The fact Kennedy Goss (2:09.64) and Kylie Masse (2:09.71) also swam the FINA standard illustrated Canada’s depth in 200 back.
“I was actually more nervous for the 200 going in tonight than I was for the 100,” said Bouchard, who is stronger in the longer backstroke. “It’s my baby, it’s my race. So if I was going to miss it, it would have been really disappointing. I went out a little faster in the first 100 than I wanted to, but that was part of laying it out all on the line.”
In 50 free, Yuri Kisil and Santo Condorelli clocked 22.23 and 22.25 seconds respectively to make the men’s mark. Both are also part of the men’s 4 x 100 relay, which has underperformed in past Olympic cycles. Kisil is a protege of Tom Johnson, the coach of former Olympic-medalist sprinter Brent Hayden.
Chantal van Landeghem (24.63) and Michelle Williams (24.82) also qualified in women’s 50 free. Both Ben Titley-coached sprinters are also part of the 4 x 100 relay. Fifteen-year-old Penny Oleksiak, who set a Canadian and world junior 100 freestyle record on Saturday, was not entered in the 50.
Twenty-year-old Luke Reilly won men’s 200 individual medley in 2:00.71, fewer than a half a second shy of the 2:00.28 needed for a Canadian to go to the Olympics in the event.