Summer McIntosh Excels Beyond All Expectations On Way to World Record

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Summer McIntosh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Summer McIntosh Excels Beyond All Expectations On Way to World Record

As Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky dueled for gold in what became one of the most memorable Olympic finals ever, a 14-year-old sat in bronze-medal position for the majority of the race. In the end, Summer McIntosh fell behind China’s Li Bingjie for the last spot on the podium, but the swimming world was left anticipating —marveling, even — what this teenager could become.

Twenty months later, McIntosh is everything we could have imagined. A world champion. A multi-event dynamo. On the short list for best female swimmer in the world.

A world-record holder.

With a time of 3:56.06 Tuesday evening at the Canadian Swimming Trials, McIntosh is now the fastest swimmer ever, better than even the legendary performances of her predecessors to hold the No. 1 spot. When Ledecky swam her 3:56.46 at the 2016 Olympics, she won by five seconds while knocking almost two seconds off her previous mark. This was the sort of record that had the potential to stand the test of time. Then Titmus, who had been steadily building toward Ledecky’s standard, inched ahead, and now McIntosh, with a whopping three-second drop, has gone even lower.

McIntosh, now training in Florida with the Sarasota Sharks and coach Brent Arckey, had already produced world junior records in four events, including three earlier this month, and on the international scene, she captured six individual medals at major meets in 2022, with two gold medals and a silver at both the World Championships and Commonwealth Games. At both meets, her lone silver came in the 400 free, when she finished just over a second behind Ledecky at Worlds and then Titmus at the Commonwealth Games.

In this latest performance, McIntosh showed early speed never before uncorked in the eight-lap race. Out in 1:55.91 at the 200-meter mark, more than a second faster than Titmus in her world-record swim last year. Sure, McIntosh tightened up coming down the stretch and lacked a finishing burst, but she was so far ahead of the pace that it did not matter.

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Summer McIntosh at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Fort Lauderdale — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

And for all the sterling efforts that McIntosh had already produced — the three sub-4:30 performances in the 400 IM, the 1:54-low in the 200 free three-and-a-half weeks earlier in Fort Lauderdale, the 2:08.08 200 IM at that same Pro Series meet — this feels like a seminal moment, the sort remembered as a turning point when reflecting back on a swimmer’s career years later.

Even McIntosh recognized the gravity of what she had pulled off. CBC Sports chronicled the often-reserved McIntosh becoming overwhelmed by the powerful emotions of the moment.

“It’s absolutely incredible. I’m not an emotional person. But I was hit with so much emotion. Pure euphoria right now. I’m just so grateful for everyone who got me to this point,” McIntosh told CBC Sports. “Over the past few years I’ve put my life into this. To be the best I can be. To achieve something like this, it was very unexpected. It was never in my dreams to do this tonight or even a few years ago. This just blows my mind.”

Somehow, McIntosh has out-paced even the most ambitious expectations for her potential accomplishments in the pool. Getting ahead of Titmus and Ledecky by the Paris Olympics could have been considered a tough but plausible goal. Now, the imagination starts swirling again. Is 3:55 in the cards, possibly as soon as this summer’s World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan?

And forget about July: what could she do this week? That 400 IM world record, held by Katinka Hosszu at 4:26.46, sits in the distance, two seconds better than any swimmer in history, and McIntosh is third all-time at 4:28.61. If she dropped three seconds in the 400 free, could she make up the ground on Hosszu as soon as Saturday?

How about the 200 free, where her world junior record of 1:54.13 ranks eighth all-time. Titmus has spent the last two years stalking Federica Pellegrini’s 1:52.98 from the polyurethane suit era, but could McIntosh get there first?

The 200 IM is a new event for McIntosh, but a trip into the 2:07-range, which no one besides Alex Walsh has achieved in four years, seems probable if she races the event this week. And we still think Liu Zige’s 200 fly world record of 2:01.81 is safe, but McIntosh could open up a gap between herself and the rest of the world.

If this message of lauding McIntosh’s swimming while envisioning what might come next sounds familiar, well, it should. The tune was similar after the World Championships, after the Commonwealth Games, after back-to-back stellar weeks at the U.S. Open and U.S. Junior Nationals in December and even after the very recent Pro Series meet.

Yet somehow, McIntosh outdoes herself each time out. Her greatness is burgeoning race after race, meet after meet, and it’s awe-inspiring to watch it unfurl.

Results from the Canadian Swimming Trials are available here.

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Wabbers
Wabbers
10 months ago

Great article.

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