TYR Pro Swim Series Knoxville: Summer McIntosh Crushes 1:55 200 Freestyle (Women’s Recap)

Summer Mcintosh of Canada reacts after winning the gold medal in the 200m Butterfly Women Final with a New World Junior Record during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 27th, 2023.
Summer McIntosh -- Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

TYR Pro Swim Series Knoxville: Summer McIntosh Crushes 1:55 200 Freestyle (Women’s Recap)

If she came to Knoxville, Tenn., in search of competitive racing, Summer McIntosh has not gotten what she hoped for as the 17-year-old Canadian has been dominant in two finals so far. She won the 200 butterfly by almost three seconds, and in the 200 freestyle final, she again finished one-and-a-half bodylengths clear of her competition, in a field which included four swimmers who have represented the United States on the global level in the event.

McIntosh set an aggressive pace in the 200 free final, and she was actually out ahead of world-record pace, flipping in 26.91 at the 50-meter mark and 55.75 halfway through. She was never going to be able to maintain the pace which Mollie O’Callaghan swam last July to set the global standard at 1:52.85, and indeed, McIntosh also fell well off her own world-junior-record pace over the finals 100 meters.

But she still established a strong pace in the early world rankings as she came in at 1:55.41. For comparison, McIntosh swam a time of 1:53.80 for bronze at the World Championships, while this time would have been good enough for fifth behind only Aussies O’Callaghan and Ariarne Titmus, McIntosh and Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey. Although 2016 Olympic champion Katie Ledecky opted out of the race in Knoxville, McIntosh proved her skills as clearly the top 200 freestyler in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, Erin Gemmell of the University of Texas finished strongly to take second. Gemmell, a member of the U.S. women’s 800 freestyle relay that claimed silver at last year’s World Championships, came in at 1:58.23 while Sun Devil’s Simone Manuel earned her second top-three finish of the meet as she took third in 1:58.87, just ahead of Paige Madden (1:58.92) and Leah Smith (1:59.14).

Other events contested on night three at the Pro Swim Series meet included the 200 backstroke, 400 IM and 100 butterfly.

Women’s 200 Backstroke

Slightly trailing Isabelle Stadden with one length remaining of the 200 back final, Claire Curzan found another gear on the way home, a stellar final split of 32.33 helping her reach for the wall ahead of Stadden. Curzan finished in 2:07.38, more than a second clear of Stadden, a Cal senior, who came in at 2:08.42.

A sprint butterfly specialist earlier in her career, Curzan has put more and more focus on the backstroke events in recent years, winning bronze in the 100 back at the 2022 World Championships and now extending her range to 200 meters in backstroke while still only racing up to 100 meters in butterfly and freestyle. Now, after missing the U.S. team for the 2023 Worlds, Curzan will head to the 2024 edition of the global meet in Doha as a favorite for a huge collection of medals. With Australia’s Kaylee McKeown and American Regan Smith absent from the meet, simply repeating her best time (2:06.35) would likely yield Curzan gold in the 200 back.

Tennessee’s Josephine Fuller, the 100 back gold medalist at the Pan American Games three months ago, placed third in 2:09.16, just ahead of Leah Shackley (2:09.39), while Rhyan White, the bronze medalist in this event at the 2022 World Championships, faded to fifth in 2:11.11 after leading all qualifiers in prelims at 2:09.85.

Women’s 400 IM

The 400 IM final featured two of the top American swimmers of the generation, with Katie Ledecky racing in lane five and Lilly King in lane six, in a very rare head-to-head showdown between the distance freestyle record holder and the breaststroke star. Both swimmers have skills in strokes beyond their respective specialties, with Ledecky strong in butterfly and backstroke and King in butterfly, but Ledecky’s breaststroke lagged far behind the rest of the field, and it was the same story for King in backstroke.

That allowed the one swimmer in the field with no real weak stroke, Tess Cieplucha, to take over. Cieplucha, a Canadian veteran who trains at the University of Tennessee, closed the gap on Ledecky on backstroke before opening up a strong lead on the breaststroke leg. And Ledecky, even with her historic freestyle skills, could not close the gap.

Cieplucha took the win in 4:41.54 while Virginia’s Ella Nelson appeared to narrowly hold off a charging Ledecky for second, only to be disqualified for a stroke infraction. That left Ledecky in the runnerup spot at 4:44.82, with Israel’s Lea Polonsky third in 4:47.58. King ended up fourth at 4:49.92.

Women’s 100 Butterfly

In the last women’s final of the evening, Gretchen Walsh turned in a stellar swim in the 100 butterfly, coming in less than a half-second off her lifetime best while holding off the Olympic gold medalist in the event. Walsh made her international debut in the 100 fly last year, qualifying for the World Championships final but ending up eight as she struggled to start the meet in Fukuoka. But in Knoxville, Walsh eclipsed not only her top flat-start time from Worlds but also the 57.06 she swam on the U.S. women’s 400 medley relay.

Walsh was out in 26.31, ahead of University of Virginia training partner Claire Curzan (26.60) and Mac Neil (26.92). The fast-finishing Mac Neil would close slightly on the back half with her 30.26 split, but Walsh was good enough at 30.47 to hold on for the win. She touched in 56.78, compared to a best time of 56.34, while Mac Neil came in at 57.18. Curzan was just behind at 57.59, and Alex Walsh, Gretchen’s older sister, touched fourth in 57.59.

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