World Championships: After ‘Off’ 400 Free, Summer McIntosh has Bounced Back

Summer Mcintosh of Canada prepares to compete in the Women's Freestyle 200m Heats during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 25th, 2023.
Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Editorial content for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships is sponsored by FINIS, a longtime partner of Swimming World and leading innovator of suits, goggles and equipment.


World Championships: After ‘Off’ 400 Free, Summer McIntosh has Bounced Back

It would be harsh to call Summer McIntosh’s performance in the women’s 400 freestyle “bad.” While it may have fallen short of the Canadian teen’s expectations for the World Aquatics Championships, adding another entry to the sub-4-minute club that includes only six women is hardly cause for crisis.

But McIntosh’s disappointment at that swim, falling nearly four seconds shy of her world record that Ariarne Titmus then repossessed and missing out on a medal Monday night, set a tone for her time in Fukuoka, for better or worse.

Since, it’s been an effort to turn the tide, mentally and physically.

McIntosh appeared to do that Wednesday night with an impressive double. She first won bronze in the 200 free, lowering her Canadian record and world junior record to 1:53.65, a cut of .26 seconds. She turned around to deliver a composed 200 butterfly semifinal, qualifying for Thursday night’s final as the third seed with an excellent chance at a medal if not a mano-a-mano battle with Regan Smith for gold.

“I think there’s always things to learn,” McIntosh said Wednesday. “You learn the most when you don’t have off races like that in the 400 free. I learned a lot about how I swam it and where I went wrong, and also my preparation before and how I can improve. It gives me a lot of motivation and inspires me to push even harder.”

McIntosh’s 400 free may have disappointed her, but there were factors out of her control in a massively fast final. Only 46 swims had ever broken four minutes, then four did so in the night session at Marine Messe Hall. Titmus romped to the world record in 3:55.38, slicing seven tenths off McIntosh’s swim in Toronto. Katie Ledecky grabbed bronze, and McIntosh fell from second after 300 meters to fourth, beaten by a personal-best from Erika Fairweather.

Her time, 3:59.94, was the most cause for disappointment, being nearly four seconds off her March pace. The podium miss owes to the legion of outstanding distance swimmers around her.

It wasn’t such a slow swim that it punctured the mystique of McIntosh, who is still just 16 and looking to build on gold in the 200 fly and 400 IM from last year’s World Championships in Budapest. It may not even have been a wakeup call, necessarily, but rather just a reset. It may prove to be valuable intel as she winnows her program for big meets ahead.

“Every swimmer and every athlete goes through off races and off competitions throughout their career,” she said. “It’s not really how you fall down but how you get up and how you recover as fast as possible. Since it was my first race, it’s always nice to shut it out, and I have so many races to go, so it’s kind of fun to see where else I can try to improve on.”

McIntosh is in the process of that. Unlike last year’s Worlds, which had limited Australian participation thanks to Commonwealth Games, this one is full-bore, a chance to take on Titmus, Mollie O’Callaghan and the rest. The middle distance freestyle has resulted in two world records, with O’Callaghan winning the 200 free to down Federica Pellegrini’s 200 free mark three days shy of its 14th birthday, in 1:52.85. Titmus was .16 behind, beaten by her teammate in the final 50. McIntosh was in the mix but eight tenths back for bronze.

If anything, this World Championships is the dawning of a new reality for McIntosh. She’s entered an exclusive echelon where swimming a personal best generally means setting a world record. Few occupy this level of pressure (Ledecky is one, who references that challenge often). Yet as the 200 shows, McIntosh is still getting faster.

Wednesday’s double is pertinent for her Parisian plans in 2024. With no shortage of options, a daunting double is just about unavoidable. Another stacks up Thursday, with the 200 fly opening the night session and the 800 free relay capping it. How she handles those challenges is a useful milepost in her preparation for Paris.

“Doubles are definitely very physically challenging and mentally challenging. But I think at the same time, they’re really fun,” she said. “Last year, I had this double but it was flipped around because it was for the 2fly final, but later I led off in the 4×2 relay. It was really fun.”

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