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Ryan Cochrane checks the scoreboard after swimming to a silver medal in the 1,500 metre freestyle on Sunday in Rome. It was the Canadian's second medal of the world aquatics championships. ((Francois Xavier Marit/AFP/Getty Images))

Ryan Cochrane is working his way toward the top of the podium for world distance swimming, one step at a time.

Along the way he's staked a claim as Canada's top performer at the 2009 world aquatics championships in Rome.

The Victoria native, 20, brought home his second medal of the meet on Sunday, finishing just up the pool from Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli, of Tunisia, in the 1,500-metre freestyle final. That was one place better than the bronze medal he won at the Beijing Olympics last year.

"There's always things you can work on and I would have loved to have gotten a gold but two medals for the team is great and I'm just happy I made everyone proud," he said. "It's great to end the weekend on a high."

Earlier this week Cochrane took third in the world 800-metre final.

Sunday is the final day of a global event that saw Canada bring home nine medals — four silver and five bronze. The other silvers went to Annamay Pierse in the 200-metre breaststroke, the women's water polo team and diver Emilie Heymans.

Canadian swimmers improving: Lafontaine

Ever since Cochrane ended an Olympic medal drought (the last was Curtis Myden's bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games) the country's swimmers seem to be on a bit of an upswing.

Swimming Canada CEO Pierre Lafontaine noted the progress but said much work remains.

"We were better than at the Olympics," Lafontaine said. "It was a very good team effort and there were a lot of breakthroughs. We need to keep moving.

"I feel like we have to take three steps every time while the rest of the world is taking two. We can't really sit back anywhere for us."

Cochrane's 1,500 race went pretty much as expected, with the Canadian setting the pace alongside Lin Zhang, of China. They battled through the halfway point on a relatively slow time before Mellouli came up and Zhang dropped away to eventually finish fifth.

"It was unexpected by how — well, frankly — how easy it was in the first half. That always feels good," Cochrane said. "In Beijing last year it was a pretty hard final to make, so I knew it was going to hurt going into the finals and it did."

The Tunisian had a lead of around a third of a body length with 300 metres to go as Cochrane tried to stay in touch. But the margin was a full length at 100 metres to go, and the Canadian trailed off as Mellouli turned it on through the final 50 to finish in 14:37.28.

Cochrane was four seconds back in 14:41.38, with China's Yang Sun at 14:46.84.

With files from the Canadian Press