Photos: courtesy of Delly Carr and Swimming Australia.
As the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games draw to a close today, bronze medallist and four-time Paralympian Blake Cochrane reflects on his most rewarding swim ever.
A photo taken of Cochrane just after his bronze medal swim in the SB7 100m Breaststroke, and in the moments after he realised he’d achieved a goal he set to swim it in 1:16 seconds, accurately illustrates the relief he was feeling.
His time was 1:16.97, finishing behind Colombian Carlos Serrano Zarate (1:12.01) and Russian Egor Efrosinin (1:16.43).
Despite no heats to calm the nerves or familiarise himself with COVID-19 processes, he challenged his higher-ranked rivals, taking an early lead, turning second at the 50m mark, and pushing Efrosinin all the way.
“I came here with a goal in mind. I wanted a 1:16:00 swim. I’ve only done that once in my career and that was in 2015,” Cochrane says from Tokyo.
“It was the most rewarding swim ever throughout my career to get that time and get that result after everything in the past two years.”
Cochrane, 30, has juggled swimming, work and being a dad.
“It’s the best intrinsic swim ever in my career,” he says.
“That whole race happened so quickly for me from walking out and having my name announced to when I hit the hall. The first thing I did was look to see the lights on the block, and I saw I came third. I took a moment to let that sink in.”
The former Southern Cross Catholic College student and Scarborough resident realised he had swum a perfect race and then looked at the time on the board.
“The photo was taken after I realised I had swum 1:16. I’d done it, I achieved the goal I set for that time. The medal was a bonus,” he explains.
“It was the second fastest time I’d ever done in my career and it’s very rewarding to be able to do that five years after recording that time,”
He says it’s quite an achievement, given the “body’s a little bit older”.
Experience to savour
When asked how Tokyo compared to his three previous Paralympic Games, Cochrane says he learnt after Rio not to compare Games and to take each for what they are.
“You have to feel the emotion and excitement of each one. I’ve really enjoyed Tokyo. There’s been different behaviour than in the past, you don’t mingle with other countries and there’s no big dining hall,” he explains.
The priority, rightly so, has been to enable every athlete to compete and to get every Australian home safely.
“I feel closer to all the other swimmers within the Australian Paralympic Team than I have at any other Games and it’s because we’ve been in our own bubble,” he says.
“In a way it’s been really nice to share that experience with the entirety of the Australian team. There are teams within the team but we’re one big mob.”
He heard teammate Col Pearse call out, “Go Blakey” as the stands fell silent just before the race.
“The Australian guys have a proud tradition of being one of the loudest groups in the stands,” Cochrane says.
And with no spectators in the stadium, they made sure their teammates knew they were there, supporting every stroke, every turn and every finish.
“We have a strong team culture and it’s great to hear that cooee that the Australians do,” he says.
After two weeks’ hotel quarantine, Cochrane will be eager to get home to his family, but he’s looking forward to a couple of days to himself before he transitions back into work as an exercise physiologist at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
He will have a break from swimming for at least a month – whatever he needs to do to recover.
“I’ll wait to see where I sit at the end of this year or January,” he says.
“At this stage, I’m fully committed to going to the Commonwealth Games and World Championships next year.”
He says he has found a new balance with family life, work and swimming that works. He trains with the USC Spartans squad under coach Nathan Doyle.
“I’m enjoying being a dad (to Eli) and working part-time, swimming falls in behind those but I love it more than ever because it fits into where my other priorities and passions lie,” Cochrane explains.
He’s hoping the COVID-19 pandemic eases and his wife Lauren will be able to join him at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
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