Swimming’s Latest Teen Sensation: Summer McIntosh Has Officially Arrived; Now Pointing Toward Greatness

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Summer McIntosh (center) with her gold medal from the women's 200 butterfly -- Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

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Summer McIntosh Has Officially Arrived, Now Pointing Toward Greatness

There have been signs of this pending emergence over the past year. Summer McIntosh was an Olympic finalist at 14 years old, narrowly off the podium in the 400 freestyle before she was entrusted with the leadoff leg of Canada’s 800 free relay. She debuted as a freestyler, but weeks after her 15th birthday, she joined the Toronto Titans of the International Swimming League as the youngest swimmer in the league, and she won five regular-season victories spanning the 400 free, 200 butterfly and 400 IM.

She won an individual silver and two relay medals at the Short Course World Championships in December. March brought a pair of “are you serious?” efforts as McIntosh went 2:05.81 in the 200 fly, just off the time required to win an Olympic medal last year, and 4:29.12 in the 400 IM, almost three seconds quicker than the winning time and good enough to make the teenager the third-fastest performer in history.

McIntosh loomed over the final leadup to the World Championships, her potential across a wide swath of events practically incalculable. Now, we have seen her talent on the biggest stage, against the toughest of competition — and her swimming has lived up to the hype. McIntosh might be five years younger than any of her primary competitors and even her relay-mates on Canada’s squad, but she belongs here, among the best.

In Budapest, McIntosh has already nabbed three medals, one of each color, and that’s with the event pegged as her best still to come. On day one, the Toronto-native did not let Katie Ledecky out of her sight in the 400 freestyle and her silver-medal finish made her the fourth woman in history to crack the 4:00-barrier. The storylines prior to that race focused on Ariarne Titmus breaking Ledecky’s world record in the 400 free and the non-rematch between the two with Titmus opting out of the World Championships, but in the hours after, the question was whether McIntosh, fresh off a two-second personal best, would be the favorite ahead of Titmus and Ledecky by the Paris Olympics in 2024. Such is the momentum that she has built.

But that 400 free success would just be a precursor to Wednesday night, the greatest performance of her career thus far. In the 200 fly final, McIntosh sat in first place through 100 meters, but she took command on the third lap, passing the top two finishers in the event from the Olympics. She pulled away and won by almost nine tenths for her first world title and a new world junior record. The time was 2:05.20, good for 12th-fastest in history.

Less than two hours later, McIntosh handled the first leg of Canada’s 800 free relay, and she clobbered the other leadoff swimmers, a group that included Australian veteran Madison Wilson and 200 free bronze medalist Tang Muhan of China, by almost two seconds. McIntosh opted not to swim the individual 200 free at these Worlds, but her time of 1:54.79 was another world junior record and faster than the winning time in the individual event the day before. That split gave Canada enough of a cushion to be able to hold off China for bronze.

That’s two record-breaking, medal-clinching swims in one night, but the back-to-back did not phase McIntosh. Sure, she’s young enough to be able to recover quickly, but more important is the maturity and presence of mind to successfully compartmentalize her swims.

“I still don’t really realize what I just did, to be honest,” McIntosh said. “It feels like two separate nights. I really just tried to separate the two and really just focus on them individually. I think I did that quite well and kept my brain as low as possible.”

That’s the mentality common to all successful multi-event swimmers. That’s a sign of a swimmer capable of building the résumé necessary to climb the list of the world’s top swimmers.

As for these World Championships, McIntosh has one event left, and it’s the event thought to be her best shot at gold entering the week, the 400 IM. Only five women in history have broken 4:30, and the other four have all won multiple Olympic gold medals each. If McIntosh can repeat that sub-4:30 form, she would be a virtual lock to win a gold medal. The world record in this event is Katinka Hosszu’s 4:26.36 from the Rio Olympics, a nearly unthinkable time that looked well out of range for anyone just one year ago, but McIntosh could flirt with that mark within a year or two.

Why not? So far, there has been no stopping McIntosh in her rapid rise over the last year, and it could be only a matter of time before the world junior records she has been breaking right and left turn into plain, old world records.

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robert kravutske
2 days ago

when your that young ……no fear!!!!!………the canadian women have put an awesome program together…….long live victor davis!!!!!!

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Barbara Harris
1 day ago

Indeed she should have a bright future ahead. I do wish the press would stop writing articles/commentary in ways that put additional pressure on these young athletes. Too many of them have suffered from mental health issues. Most famously Phelps and Schmitt have spoken out, but current stars such as Titmus have also talked about needing a break.

By all means report on Summer’s fabulous swims, but is it really necessary for you to heap this sort of additional pressure on her?

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Tracy Kosinski
12 hours ago

Hahahahaha – it is only a matter of time before she holds multiple world records at one time.

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