Four years after Island Swimming's Ryan Cochrane first burst onto the international scene as a distance swimmer to be reckoned with, he won his first major international championship with a convincing win in the men's 1500 Free at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships.
Fittingly, it was at the PanPacs back in 2006, which were being held in Cochrane's hometown of Victoria, BC, where he first made his mark on the international stage, coming from out of nowhere to lead for more than half of the men's 800 free, eventually earning a bronze, and then putting up a solid performance in the 1500 free to close out the meet.
Since then, Cochrane's rise has been steady, peaking with an Olympic record and eventual bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, then a silver and bronze medal the 2009 World Championships in Rome.
His win at the 2010 PanPacs, being held in Irvine, CA, just outside of Los Angeles, though, marks the first time he has taken the gold against a field of this magnitude.
In the race were 2008 and 2009 gold medalist, Ous Mellouli of Tunisia, (gold medalist from Beijing and Rome); Zhang Lin from China - world record holder in the 800 Free; and Park Tae Hwan from South Korea.
Cochrane took control of the race right from the start and never looked back. No one made a serious challenge all through the race, as almost every single 50, Cochrane continued to increase his lead, with his winning time being five full seconds faster than second-place Chad La Tourette (USA) and over nine seconds faster than bronze-medallist Zhang. Mellouli, who has bested Cochrane in each of the other meetings at this level, was never in the race, finishing in 16th place.
Cochrane's win capped a first day at PanPacs that was something of a mixed bag for the Canadian team. There were a few standout swims, most notably Stefan Hirniak's (IS) new Canadian record in the men's 200 Fly (1:57.31) during prelims, but overall, the number of fast swims in prelims wasn't quite up to par. If it weren't for the two-swimmer per country limit on entries into the "A" final, in fact, Canada would have placed only two swimmers (Audrey Lacroix who placed fourth in 200 fly and Genevieve Samur who was sixth in 200 Free) besides Cochrane into the top 8 of any event.
A total of nine swimmers did get into the "A" finals, though, with the best finish by a BC swimmer being Julia Wilkinson (IS) finishing fifth in the women's 100 back (1:00.44).
Probably the most impressive swim of the meet (beside Phelps dominating the 200 fly, as usual) was Ryan Lochte's win in the 200 Free. The hurt he put on the field in the third 50 and then the strength he showed coming home was truly something to witness! If there wasn't a Michael Phelps, this guy would be the one true dominant superstar in swimming, with his world-dominating capability in free, back and IM.
Speaking of backstroke, Aaron Piersol, who initially was out of the "A" final in 100 back due to his being third-fastest American in prelims, got into the "A" final because Lochte decided to scratch (the 100 back final was less than a half-hour after the 200 free final). In made up for that sub-par prelims swim, though, with a fantastic come-from-behind win.
Other winners on the first day of competition included Jessicah Schipper (AUS), who defended her PanPacs title in 200 Fly; Kate Ziegler (USA) who used a great final half to win the women's 800 Free; and Alison Schmitt (USA), who broke one of the few PanPacs records in winning the women's 200 Free in 1:56.10.
Competition continues through Saturday, with prelims each morning at 10:00am and finals at 6:00pm, and then the 10k open water race on Sunday morning.
Online coverage of the meet is available at universalsports.com (may take some finagling to get that working in Canada), and online results are available from Omega at http://www.omegatiming.com/swimming/racearchives/2010/IrvinePPchampionships/index_d1.htm