Yes, Summer McIntosh Could Chase Five Individual Olympic Golds — But Probably Not Six

Summer Mcintosh of Canada shows the gold medal after competing 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: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Yes, Summer McIntosh Could Chase Five Individual Olympic Golds — But Probably Not Six

This Canadian was an Olympian at age 14, a world champion at 15 and a world-record holder at 16. Now, Summer McIntosh is clearly entrenched as one of the world’s top swimmers, one of only three female swimmers to win multiple individual golds at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships. The others were legendary swimmers Katie Ledecky and Sarah Sjostrom. That’s good company.

Her final preparation for a second Olympic Games has gotten off to an ideal start in 2024. McIntosh swam swift times in all of her events at last month’s Pro Swim Series in Knoxville, Tenn., and Thursday evening, she made a rare appearance in the 800 free at a Sectionals meet in Orlando and took down Ledecky head-to-head, ending the American’s 13-year winning streak in the event and becoming the second-fastest swimmer in history at 8:11.39.

Naturally, the immediate reaction is awe. What can’t McIntosh accomplish in the pool? That makes a whopping six long course events in which McIntosh ranks among the top-five performers in history. The last swimmer (and possibly the only other swimmer) to ever match that was Michael Phelps, who was top-five in seven different races for a two-year stretch from 2007 to 2009. In the middle of that time, Phelps won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics, a feat widely regarded as one of the greatest ever in any sport.

In that dazzling week in Beijing, Phelps won five individual golds (the most by any swimmer ever in one Olympics) and never had to race in more than one individual final in a session, although he did handle doubles involving an individual final plus relay or a semifinal. The schedule worked in Phelps’ favor, as it must for any swimmer hoping to pull off an unthinkable performance at a major meet.

How does the schedule line up for McIntosh? Well enough that she could pull off five individual events in Paris, swimming well enough to win five individual medals and perhaps even five individual golds. But six? No way.

Here’s the schedule for the events in which McIntosh could participate, including the Canadian women’s relays:

  • Day 1 AM: 400 freestyle P
  • Day 1 PM: 400 freestyle F, 400 freestyle relay F
  • Day 2 AM: 200 freestyle P
  • Day 2 PM: 200 freestyle SF
  • Day 3 AM: 400 IM P
  • Day 3 PM: 400 IM F, 200 freestyle F
  • Day 4 AM: off
  • Day 4 PM: off
  • Day 5 AM: 200 butterfly P
  • Day 5 PM: 200 butterfly SF
  • Day 6 AM: off
  • Day 6 PM: 200 butterfly F, 800 freestyle relay F
  • Day 7 AM: 200 IM P, 800 freestyle P
  • Day 7 PM: 200 IM SF
  • Day 8 AM: off
  • Day 8 PM: 200 IM F, 800 freestyle F
  • Day 9 PM: 400 medley relay F
Summer Mcintosh of Canada competes in the 400m Individual Medley Women Final during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 30th, 2023. Summer Mcintosh placed first winning the gold medal.

Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

This setup brings some potentially tricky situations for McIntosh to navigate, with potentially four different days with multiple medal races. The 400 free-400 free relay double on the first day should be manageable, with only 100 meters to race the second time and McIntosh developing a reputation for strong relay performances.

The next two doubles, on days three and six, would put McIntosh in the first and last races of the session. That means she could try to win gold in both the 400 IM and 200 free on the same night, but while she is a big favorite in the medley, trying to beat the likes of Mollie O’CallaghanAriarne Titmus and Siobhan Haughey over 200 meters is a daunting task even while fresh.

However, day eight features both the 200 IM and 800 free. A year ago, before McIntosh had flexed medal-caliber speed in either event, it looked like she would be done with her main events by this point, maybe trying to win an extra medal to conclude the Games but likely without terribly high expectations.

Then came the 2:06.89 200 IM, which made McIntosh the fourth-fastest performer ever. She followed that up last month with a 2:07.16 at the Knoxville meet last month. And now comes the 8:11 800 free, suddenly giving her a real chance at thwarting Ledecky’s attempted four-peat in the 800 free, a mark no women’s swimmer (and only Phelps among men) has achieved in any event.

The 200 IM final and 800 free final are scheduled back-to-back on the second-to-last day of Olympic swimming. McIntosh will not attempt both. Attempting a double like that on the Olympic level would be virtually impossible, and McIntosh has developed a habit of dropping an event or two at major meets to focus on maximum performance in her main events. She dropped the 200 IM at last year’s Worlds for that reason.

Even going for the 400 IM-200 free combo would be a rare move for her, but given a gap of some 90 minutes in between, that is a feasible possibility. Not the 200 IM plus 800 free. The guess here is that she opts for the medley, gearing her training toward the shorter distances and focusing on a potential showdown with Americans Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh plus Australia’s Kaylee McKeown at the end of a grueling Paris program.

If Paris were to go well for McIntosh, that medley could yield individual medal No. 5. In Olympic swimming history, the only female to win five solo medals at one Games was Australia’s Shane Gould, who bagged three golds, one silver and a bronze in 1972. An absolutely perfect Olympics could mean the 200 IM is a fifth individual gold medal, a historic feat that would match Phelps. McIntosh’s incredible swimming has made this conversation a realistic one.

But six? Not this time, not in Paris. No swimmer, not even one as talented and successful as McIntosh, could stave off fatigue to pull it off given the schedule constraints.

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Michael Gorvitz
Michael Gorvitz
21 days ago

Summer is unstoppable in 400IM and has very good chances to win 400 free and 200 fly. I don’t believe she can win gold in shorter distances (200 IM, 200 free). – she is more a distance swimmer. I also think she has better chance to win 800 free than 200IM.

Swim Shady
Swim Shady
18 days ago

I can’t believe she is only 17

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