SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Former world-record holder Ryan Cochrane opened the Santa Clara International Invitational with a victory in the men's 800 meters on Thursday.
Cochrane, a bronze medalist in the 1,500 at the Beijing Olympics, never trailed in his returns to racing following a short break. The Canadian completed the race in 7:58.00. Australia's Robert Hurley finished second in 8:01.73.
UCLA senior Samantha Vanden Berge won the women's 1,500 meters with a strong second half, easing past high school star Tristin Baxter and winning by just more than a second with a time of 16:51.63.
"It's looking pretty good," Vanden Berge said. "I've been through some hard training, so it looks good going into nationals in August."
Vanden Berge, who swam in the past two Olympic trials, maintained a steady pace throughout and kept the lead once she took over about halfway through the race.
"I'm hoping to make some sort of [national] team," Vanden Berge said. "This may be my final summer if I don't make a team. It's all or nothing, and maybe that will be extra motivation."
Baxter, who will attend Arizona State in the fall, finished in 16:52.91.
"It's always good to have a race like this to compare yourself and see where I am," said Baxter, who finished second to Olympian Chloe Sutton at the Columbia, Mo., Grand Prix meet earlier in the year. "It was a nice start to the summer."
Baxter competed in her first meet since winning two individual events in leading Clovis (Calif.) West to a section title a little less than a month ago.
Cochrane is already starting to get ready for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"Last year was good for me even though I wasn't really swimming my best times," Cochrane said. "I had to take time off after 2008 because it was mentally tough. Right now, there's just one world [championship] left, and then there's the Olympic trials."
Cochrane, who held the world mark in the 1,500 for a little less than an hour, swam between two familiar opponents in Hurley and Thomas Fraser-Holmes, also from Australia.
"They are great competitors, and you never really know what to expect from them," Cochrane said. "I have to be ready for anything. The important thing is I am racing again and feeling good about what I am doing."