Summer McIntosh expands her horizons as an emerging swimming star
Summer McIntosh isn’t exactly a stranger in swimming, but this race surprised those who only knew her as a 200/400 swimmer. Last summer, she came close to making it to the Olympic podium twice – a pair of fourth-place finishes in the 400 freestyle and 4×200 freestyle relay, just weeks shy of her 15th birthday. She also finished ninth in the 200 freestyle and 11th in the 800 freestyle.
Swimming on the sport’s biggest stage didn’t scare the Toronto teenager too much, as he trains with some of the best swimmers in Canada at the High Performance Center in Ontario. This group is full of stars, including the 2016 Olympic gold medalist Penny Oleksiakas well as double silver medalist from Tokyo, Kylie Masse.
In fact, ten members of the Canadian Olympic swimming team last year came from HPC Ontario. This provided some form of solace to rookie McIntosh to be able to see a number of familiar faces on his first international encounter. And with no spectators allowed for the duration of the Games, it took some of the stress off him to be able to treat the Olympics like any other competition.
“There was definitely a lot of energy on deck even without the spectators.“McIntosh told FINA. “I was walking to the warm up pool and seeing some really famous swimmers there and I had never been able to see them in person, and to be kind of at the same level of competition as them is such an honor. It was really cool to see that they are also normal people and are there to run and swim fast.
Her Tokyo dreams began in 2019, when she was 13, when the chance to make the 1500 m team was considered a long shot by herself and her coaches. Her goals were lofty, but she comes from a family of world-class athletes – her mother Jill raced for Canada at the 1984 Olympics in the 200m butterfly, while her sister Brooke, a year-and-a-half more than Summer, recently won a bronze medal in pair figure skating at the Junior World Championships last April.
McIntosh had been involved in a number of sports growing up – football, gymnastics, figure skating, horse riding, artistic swimming, in addition to being a swimmer. It was at the age of seven that she fully committed to being a swimmer, choosing the water over the ice of figure skating, admitting that she was a better skater at the time, while her sister was considered a better swimmer.
“It was kind of ironic that we picked what we were worse at,” McIntosh said.
Having a parent who was also an elite swimmer has its advantages when faced with the day-to-day challenges of being an athlete.
“I just noticed throughout my swimming career, my mom has been able to understand where I’m coming from when I have a bad run or bad practiceand (when) talking about swimming in general. She is really able to grasp the concept and understand where I come from and it was really helpful just so I could talk to him on the same level. She has been a great support throughout my career. »
As a teenager, she was one of the best swimmers in Canada and was ready to aim for the Olympic team in Tokyo. But while at home during the COVID lockdown in April 2020, his longtime coach Kevin Thorburn passed away. With her Olympic dream still alive, she made the decision to move training sites to the High Performance Center in Ontario, where then-coach Ben Titley welcomed her with open arms.
“It was probably one of the craziest four months of my life with the passing of my coach and I really didn’t know what I was going to do when we could get back to swimming,” McIntosh said. “I thought and considered many different places to go and pursue my swimming career and it came down to center and to this day I’m really grateful that I made that option and took the chance to join a new team and I am really grateful that they allowed me to join even without really knowing about me.
McIntosh is the Center’s youngest swimmer, the closest being 17. Joining a new group can be daunting, especially when a number of them are in their early twenties and have already swum in the biggest competitions in the world. But they immediately welcomed young McIntosh, and she still feels like a normal teenager outside of the pool. Schoolwork dominates her outside of pool time, but on the weekends she spends the night with her friends and frequents her cabin in Muskoka.allowing herself to balance being a world-class swimmer and a normal person.
Moving from a club team to a professional training facility comes with many changes, including more individualistic and stroke-specific work, as well as an increased amount of strength training, which McIntosh has taken up in the stride. In addition to being the world’s best in the 400m individual medley, she set the national record in the 400m freestyle (4:01.59) at the Canadian World Trials in April.
“Going to have another experience under my belt before Worlds was pretty crucial just because I only swam the 400m freestyle at the speed and execution that I’ve wanted so many times and the more experience I can get before making it to the world stage is really important.”
She is also third in the world in the 200m freestyle (1:55.39) and 200m butterfly (2:07.60) with her swims this year. After a year of training primarily for distance freestyle, she approached coach Ryan Mallette to focus on the events she had previously excelled in – namely the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley..
“It’s really what I wanted to do and I think I’ll reach my greatest potential in (these events), which is why I came back (to fly and IM). It was definitely more my decision than my I talked to them about it and there was definitely a bit of a setback, but they helped me overall to be able to come back very quickly in both IM and volley.
Calls to Budapest
In preparation for her first world championships, she will compete in the 200m and 400m freestyle, 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley, where podium finishes are within reach in all four. Canada is also returning its entire national 4x200m freestyle relay record from last year which finished fourth. The relay is anyone’s game right now, and McIntosh could win a big medal if all goes in his favor. But medals aren’t the main focus for her, with running the race being the top priority every time she gets behind the blocks.
“I think every race I get excited for different reasons, there’s not one race that stands out. Overall, I’m just excited about my schedule and to start swimming and getting started.”
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