Can Summer McIntosh Take Down Katinka Hosszu’s 400 IM World Record?

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Summer McIntosh -- Photo Courtesy: Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol

Can Summer McIntosh Take Down Katinka Hosszu’s 400 IM World Record?

Without conducting an exhaustive search, it’s pretty clear that no female swimmer had ever covered the first 100 meters of a 400 IM in under 1:00 — not until Summer McIntosh did so in the final of the U.S. Open Friday evening. Even Katinka Hosszu never went out that fast in any of her five world-title-winning swims in the event or on her way to Olympic gold in the 400 IM in world-record time in 2016.

In that final, McIntosh had a strong competitor in Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant one lane over, but Weyant was nowhere close to her best form while the rest of the field was not international caliber. So the 16-year-old Canadian took a risk, and she was up on the field by more than two seconds after 50 meters and 4.5 seconds after the butterfly was complete. Could McIntosh hold her form together to make that opening surge worth it? Yes, she could, and the result was a lifetime best by four tenths, good enough to make McIntosh the third woman in history under 4:29.

That swim marked the third occasion this year that McIntosh has cracked 4:30, and the long-standing world record, the ridiculous mark of 4:26.36 that Hosszu set in Rio, is now under serious fire. McIntosh’s butterfly split was 1.51 seconds quicker than Hosszu’s from the world-record pace, not really a huge surprise given that McIntosh is the world champion in the 200 fly. Similarly, McIntosh is one of three women in history to break 4:00 in the 400 freestyle wearing a textile suit, so it’s not too surprising that her free splits can eclipse Hosszu’s world record marks.

Here’s how the splits stack up between Hosszu’s world record and McIntosh’s two best efforts in the 400 IM:

  • Hosszu, 2016 Olympics (WR): 28.33, 1:00.91 (32.58), 1:35.01 (34.10), 2:08.39 (33.38), 2:45.62 (37.23), 3:24.50 (38.88), 3:55.68 (31.18), 4:26.36 (30.68)
  • McIntosh, U.S. Open:  27.69, 59.40 (31.71), 1:32.41 (34.81), 2:08.20 (33.99), 2:47.65 (39.45), 3:27.46 (39.81), 3:58.96 (31.50), 4:28.61 (29.65)
  • McIntosh, Commonwealth Games: 27.93, 1:00.54 (32.61), 1:35.27 (34.73), 2:09.87 (34.60), 2:48.29 (38.42), 3:28.16 (39.87), 3:59.36 (31.20), 4:29.01 (29.65)

Comparing her U.S. Open swim to her previous best time, which she set on the way to gold at the Commonwealth Games, McIntosh was more than a second quicker on the butterfly leg and a half-second quicker on backstroke. However, her best backstroke split still trails Hosszu’s by one-and-a-half seconds, but that’s to be expected since two days after the 400 IM world record, Hosszu won Olympic gold in the 100 back.

As for the breaststroke, McIntosh fell off her own top pace by more than a second last week, likely showing some fatigue from her aggressive early speed. But even McIntosh’s best breaststroke split (1:18.29) is two seconds behind the 1:16.11 that Hosszu recorded in Rio.

So the most likely path to a world record is continued improvement on the backstroke and breaststroke legs while expecting that she will continue to refine her freestyle and butterfly while pursuing goals in those single-stroke events. The biggest advantage McIntosh has on her side? She just turned 16 in August, and her progression over the past few years has been enormous. She got onto Canada’s Olympic team in 2021 and went on to narrowly miss a medal in the 400 free final before finishing ninth in the 200 free.

At that point, individual medley swimming was not on the radar, not on the international level anyway, and it was during last fall’s ISL season and via some impressive long course results early this year that McIntosh burst onto the scene as a potential contender in those events. By June, she had a pair of world titles in her pocket. In early December, at a U.S. Open that is certainly not a primary focus meet for McIntosh, she is already beating her best marks from international championship swims over the summer.

One factor that might work against the world-record pursuit is the schedule at major international meets. The women’s 400 IM falls on the final day of the World Championships schedule, and McIntosh showed some fatigue on day eight this year in Budapest as she ended up winning gold in 4:32.04, a full three seconds slower than she would end up swimming on day one at the Commonwealth Games. The new Olympic schedule places the race on day three, better timing but still after McIntosh would have raced the 400 free and 400 free relay.

But McIntosh is young and already extremely accomplished, and her momentum is still pointing upward. Don’t overthink the minutiae — this world record is very much within reach.

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