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Windsor's Ryan Cochrane lands unexpected Olympic spot in paddling

Windsor native Ryan Cochrane is headed to a second Olympics, but this one came out of the blue. Cochrane, who paddled in the 2012 Olympics in London, has been added to the Canadian team, along with Quebec's Hugues Fournel.
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Ryan Cochrane, front, and Hugues Fournel will compete in the K-2 200 metres at the Rio Olympics. (BALINT VEKASSY / Canoe Kayak Canada)

Windsor native Ryan Cochrane is headed to a second Olympics, but this one came out of the blue.

The 33-year-old Cochrane, who paddled in the 2012 Olympics in London, has been added to the Canadian team, along with Quebec's Hugues Fournel. They will compete in the K-2 200 metres in Rio de Janeiro.

Cochrane, a father of two, went to bed early on Sunday to prepare for a Monday training session. He woke in the night to check his email and found out he'd been picked for the Olympics.

Canada received two additional spots for the Olympics on Friday. They were allocated by the International Canoe Federation after a Russian crew was suspended due to a doping infraction.

The ICF subsequently demanded Canada make its roster decision by Sunday. Cochrane and Fournel finished ninth at the world championships last year.

It is a strange twist among many strange twists.

Cochrane and Fournel have not been partners this season. Cochrane and Quebec's Etienne Morneau teamed up this season and narrowly missed qualifying directly for Rio at the Continental trials in May in Georgia, losing a spot to Brazil by 0.07 seconds.

"I had no clue what was going to happen," Cochrane said early Monday. "All I knew is that I figured I was in somewhat of a decent position. I was hoping someway or another I'd be involved in the crew and it turned out I was, so that's a good thing."

Sweden was first in line for the additional Olympic ticket, but declined it. Canada was next in line based on the performance by Cochrane and Fournel at the worlds last year.

The tandem also partnered in London, placing seventh in the K-2 200. Cochrane has often wondered if that result might have been better if not for drug cheats.

Ironically, cheaters getting punished gets him a chance at a second Olympics.

"Now we look back at all the years, and we had a feeling with some of the crews what was going on. Now you see them getting caught. Two crews got caught from London, so that almost puts us in fifth place. Maybe we would have been higher. Who knows? That's the sad part of the sport ... the dark side of it. But in a positive light it worked out for us."

Cochrane was devastated when he didn't qualify in the Continental event, believing he'd failed his team and his country. But he and Morneau continued on despite the setback and competed in several World Cup events in Europe.

He continued to train, needing to assure his athletic carding for next season. With the training centre in Quebec City, where he resides, he kept going in preparation for the 2017 season.

"I was doing everything I could to help the team and to help me for next year. I didn't want to stop right yet."

His heartache was doubled with the death of his grandmother in July.

He learned the Russian crew was out of the Olympics, but then understood the spot belonged to Sweden. Then he heard one of the top Swedes had retired, and Canada was next to the plate.

"Then it starts this crazy process for us." he said. "So I kept my head down, went back to the water and worked hard. This is one of the most stressful things I've dealt with, with the exception of my grandmother's situation. All I could do was be professional and keep looking forward. That's what I did and I guess I got shined on a little bit."

As for being ready for Rio under the circumstances, he said he has no doubts.

"I'm going the fastest I've ever gone in my life. I'm in great shape."

Cochrane joins Halifax's Mark de Jonge and Lake Echo's Genevieve Orton on the Canadian Olympic paddling contingent.



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