LONDON – Look, Ryan Cochrane did not get screwed. Officials made the right call when they reinstated South Korea’s Park Tae-hwan for the 400-metre freestyle final Saturday night, bumping the Canadian from eighth place to out of the field.
This is not the end of the world for Cochrane, either. His best chance for a medal was going to come Aug. 4, anyway, in the final of the 1,500 free. He won bronze in the 1,500 free four years ago in Beijing.
But this is still a shame, still a heartbreaker, still one of those stories that always seems to pop up in the Olympics and make you shake your head.
Cochrane left the pool after prelims Saturday morning thinking he had at least a shot at a medal. You never know. He might have won Canada’s first medal of the London Games, especially if he didn’t have to go against Park, the gold medalist in Beijing and the reigning world champion.
"Snuck right in that final for tonight!'' Cochrane tweeted in the afternoon. "I’m excited to see how it all pans out … anything can happen at the olympics!''
Well, this is how it panned out. This is the anything that happened. FINA reversed the decision to disqualify Park for a false start in his prelim. He went back into the eight-man field for the final, and that left Cochrane in ninth.
By one-hundredth of a second.
After he had finished ninth in the 400 free in Beijing.
And he didn’t find out until 3:30 p.m., a little more than four hours before he was supposed to dive into the pool.
"Obviously placing 9th by 1/100th of a second has been a challenging thing to overcome,'' Cochrane tweeted in the evening. "Im now putting all my energy into this mile!''
Cochrane did everything he was supposed to do. His coach, Randy Bennett, told him simply to win his heat in the morning, thinking that would give him a time good enough to make the final.
He won Heat 2 with a time of 3:47.26.
Park won Heat 3 with a time of 3:46.68, but his result showed a disqualification. An official had called him for a false start. The referee backed it up. The South Koreans lodged their appeal within the 20-minute allotment, and the referee stuck to his decision.
It seemed Cochrane had the eighth spot locked up - just behind Great Britain’s David Carry, who swam 3:47.25 in the morning.
"You need a little bit of luck, and so that was one of our lucky things,'' Bennett said. " ‘Oh, he got in. We’ve got the luck on our side this morning.’ And as it turned out, we didn’t.''
The case went to the jury of appeal. The jury reviewed video and overturned the call. FINA officials were unavailable for comment, instead putting out a one-paragraph statement to announce that Park had been reinstated by the organization’s technical commission.
Bennett said he hadn’t seen Park’s start, but based on what he had been told, he was surprised. He also was surprised by the timing.
"I’ve never seen anything like it,'' Bennett said.
Asked what he meant, he said: "Just the process, how it worked. We left understanding that the referee had agreed with the call. I’ve been assured that the process has been followed correctly. I think that it was different than we had seen. So that’s the way it is, right?''
I am not a swimming expert. I can’t tell from the YouTube clip whether Park flinched on the block. It was that close. But former Australian star Ian Thorpe told the BBC: "I’ve watched this thing 12 times. There is no movement at the start of the race.'' Thorpe has five of the top 10 times ever in this event. That’s good enough for me.
But the appeals process should be smoother and more timely, and why aren’t they using every possible tool they can to get the call right the first time? This is the Olympics, and apparently, they aren’t.
Pierre Lafontaine, the CEO of Swimming Canada, said Omega has developed a new system of underwater cameras that could have been used.
"A situation like this will certainly allow the discussion on, ‘Why not have videos now all the way through to double check everything?' '' Lafontaine said. "I think that would be probably the next step for our sport and probably be a very good step.''
Probably a necessary step.
Park won silver Saturday night. Good for him. Meanwhile, Cochrane had to concentrate on his next event, his best event, the 1,500 free. He cannot let this distract him. At least he has a week to reset.
"I think that he’s probably more philosophical about the swimming,'' said Bennett, who broke the news to Cochrane. "He probably looks at it like he needed to be faster more than anything.
"Like I say, he followed my directions. He got up and won the heat. Typically that’s good enough in the seeded heats. And so you bang your head against the wall a little bit about some of this stuff, but …''
"There’s a little bit of luck involved in some of these situations,'' Bennett said.
Too much, actually.