An All-American as a sophomore and junior, the Pacific Collegiate Swimming and Diving Conference (PCSC) Male Swimmer of the Year both of those years as well and current UC San Diego school record-holder in three individual events and one relay, senior Michael Cohn has already cemented his place in Triton history. He definitely has an admirer in UCSD head coach Daniel Perdew. "Michael is an incredibly driven student and athlete," says Perdew. "He looks to perfect everything he's involved with and strives to get better every day. He hit almost every goal he laid out for himself last year and we're expecting to see great things out of him as he puts the finishing touches on what's been one of the best careers in UCSD Swimming history." With the 2017 NCAA Division II Championships in Birmingham, Ala., fast approaching (March 8-11), Cohn took time to talk about his sport, some of his career highlights, and comparisons between swimming and music.
Q: For many outsiders, swimming at the collegiate level looks like a major commitment with minimal publicity in an activity that demands rigorous, repetitive training and sharp technical focus. For you, what is the reward?
COHN: That's really the question, isn't it? What makes this all worth it? It's different for everyone, but for me it's definitely internal achievement. I'm a very goal-oriented individual. I set out with a specific goal in mind with everything I do. Swimming, and athletics, is no different. Working so hard for so long, it's sometimes hard to see the end reward. But when I focus on what's important, achieving my goals, it makes it all worth it.
Q: How many yards would you say you put in during an average week of training? What kind of mileage would you estimate you've covered over your swimming career?
COHN: When I was younger I used to keep track of my yardage and mileage almost religiously in a spreadsheet with all kinds of graphs, data points, and charts; comparing year over year. I haven't done that in a long time because I feel now it's more important to let the coach worry about that and for me to just focus on working hard. But if I had to guess, I would say it's anywhere from 40,000-55,000 yards a week, depending on the time of year and focus. That's anywhere from 25-35 miles. I probably average about 6,000 yards a day (3.5 miles). Based on the numbers that I do have from past years, in my whole career, I've probably covered close to 10,000 miles.
Q: At UC San Diego, you've specialized in middle distance freestyle and backstroke. What is your favorite event?
COHN: I love the 200 backstroke. It's simple, I'm good at it.
Q—Do those two disciplines require completely different training methods or are there crossover benefits?
COHN: Well for starters, everyone trains more freestyle than anything else. It's the simplest and easiest stroke to train and benefits all strokes. If you're good at training aerobic freestyle, chances are you're good at a lot of other aerobic events, too. For me, training for the 500 free has definitely helped my swimming the most. This year I've trained for that and the 200 back, and those two pretty much take care of all my events.
Q: We haven't seen you in a 400 individual medley. If you were entered there, how do you think you would do? How would you evaluate your butterfly and breaststroke skills?
COHN: I know why you're asking this. You want to see me race Gabriel Hernandez in a 400 IM. Well, I'll cut to the chase. He's much better at it than me. My 400 IM is fantastic for the first 200 yards. Then the breaststroke leg comes and that's not something the coaches really want to see. My breaststroke is notoriously terrible. That is the main reason I don't swim IM. My butterfly is pretty good and my back and free are very good. So, my breastwork is actually the only reason.
Q: What types of training do swimmers do outside of the water and what types of gain come from those endeavors?
COHN: Well, outside of our regimented weight training (which is pretty standard these days for all collegiate sports), core work and stretching are incredibly important. I'm a big advocate for flexibility. Strength is great, but if you can't touch your toes you've got bigger problems. As a team, we do yoga every week. I think it has been a big help. When you're a swimmer, it's easy to get in a rut of doing the same thing to your body day in and out. And that's usually how injuries occur. So taking care of your body and making sure that you're an all-around athlete is really important.
Q: You own school records in three events, the 200 freestyle as well as the 100 and 200 backstroke. The 100 backstroke mark, set at last year's NCAA Championships, came under somewhat unusual circumstances. Can you take us through that experience and your thoughts along the way?
COHN: Yes, it came right after the 500 free in prelims. I had a, let's be honest, terrible 500 free. Coming off that race I was so upset. I really wanted to final and score points in the 500. But at the same time, I knew the 100 back was about 12 minutes after it. That's not very much time. So I kind of psyched myself out of a good 500. I just remember going to the warm-down pool and thinking, "alright this is it, if you want the record it's now or never." And 12 minutes later I got up behind the blocks still out of breath and somehow did it. I still don't know how. And I haven't really been able to replicate it since. Maybe this year I'll have an opportunity to do well in both.
Q: You won the 200 and 500 freestyle and 200 backstroke at the recent PCSC Championships. What events do you expect to be swimming at the 2017 NCAA Division II Championship, a few weeks from now in Alabama?
COHN: Those three events exactly, and maybe the 100 backstroke. But hopefully we'll be able to put together a 400 medley relay which I can swim backstroke on instead.
Q: You come from an aquatic background as both your mother, Kay, and father, Bill, were competitive swimmers. Was swimming something you were successful at from the very beginning? What are your earliest memories of participation in the sport?
COHN: In short, no. I hated swimming as a kid and I wasn't particularly good at it. I showed potential, but I was by no means a star. I didn't really become good at swimming until I was about 15 or 16. And even then, I didn't truly become fast until after high school when I competed for Grossmont College my freshman year. My parents pretty much dragged me kicking and screaming to my first swim lessons and to join our local novice team.
Q: As both a swimmer and a person, what do you feel is the most important trait you have inherited from each of your parents?
COHN: Drive from my father, and tenacity from my mother. My dad has the most incredible ability to set goals and execute steps to reach them. I try to do the same. My mom is a very focused individual. When she has an idea or there's a problem to be solved, almost nothing can stop her.
Q: In a sentence, how would you describe the culture of UC San Diego Swimming & Diving?
COHN: We work hard, really hard.
Q: What do you feel is the most important thing that head coach Dan Perdew brings to the program? What contributions has the entire staff made to your collegiate success?
COHN: Perdew's experience with UCSD over the past 10 years is very important and allows him to bring a lot to the table. It's a big team with a lot of different groups and types of swimmers. Each coach brings something different to each of their respective groups. For me, Marko Djordjevic's ability to instill confidence in me has been the biggest help.
Q: In the summer of 2016 you competed at U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. What was your biggest takeaway from that meet?
COHN: It made swimming fun for me again. I'd been working so hard for so long that I had forgotten how to enjoy the sport. I had put so much pressure on myself to make trials that it was burning me out. When I finally made it, it was like a wave of relief had washed over me; like a heavy burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I just went to trials and had fun racing. I enjoyed every minute of it because I realized it's probably a once in a lifetime experience. It reminded me why I love swimming and it's fun to race under the lights.
Q: Rumor has it you are an automobile aficionado and enjoy Formula 1 racing. Who is your favorite F-1 driver, what is your favorite F-1 race and what is your dream car?
COHN: My favorite driver is Jenson Button, but he just retired. So my second favorite driver is Nico Rosberg, but he also retired. Long story short, I need to find a new favorite driver. My favorite race has got to be Canada 2011. Jenson Button came from last place in the rain up to first, then crashed into his teammate Lewis Hamilton, and then came back from last to first again to take the win from Sebastian Vettel on the final lap. One of the most exciting races in F1 history. My dream is to just drive an F1 car someday.
Q: As a music major at UC San Diego and a member of the Honors in Music program for Piano Performance, you find yourself on a different kind of stage. What is more nerve-wracking, standing on the blocks at an NCAA Championship or sitting in front of a piano and playing a difficult piece for a discerning audience?
COHN: Piano is more nerve-wracking for sure. Swimming is easy, it's physical, you just go fast and don't think. Piano, and music in general, is much more technical. Being ready for a performance is much different than a race. You can't be hyped up, you have to be calm and controlled. Logical, almost. It's very intellectual.
Q: What do you hope to do with your degree after graduating this June?
COHN: I'm taking a gap year to work on my graduate auditions for grad school the following year. I'd love to go on and get me PhD in music.
Q: What would make the upcoming NCAA Championships a success in your eyes?
COHN: Personal improvement is always my goal. If I can walk away with best times, that'll be great.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Dalayna Sampton (Women's Basketball) February 8, 2017
Milosh Stojcic (Men's Volleyball) January 27, 2017
Chris Hansen (Men's Basketball) December 26, 2016
Cassie MacLeod (Women's Basketball) December 16, 2016
Natalie Tang (Women's Swimming & Diving) November 18, 2016
Nolan Mac (Men's Soccer) October 13, 2016
Scott Acton (Men's Cross Country) October 6, 2016
Marie Paris (Women's Volleyball) September 16, 2016
Kiera Bocchino (Women's Soccer) September 2, 2016
Nick Alexander (Men's Water Polo) August 23, 2016
Karina Carstens (Women's Cross Country) August 8, 2016
Amanda Colla (Women's Volleyball) July 22, 2016
Palano Twins (Men's Soccer) July 13, 2016
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