Summer McIntosh Confirms Star Power With Prolific, Record-Breaking Trials Performance

summer mcintosh
Summer McIntosh -- Photo Courtesy: Michael P. Hall/Swimming Canada

Summer McIntosh Confirms Star Power With Prolific, Record-Breaking Trials Performance

During her heyday, Katinka Hosszu was perhaps the most dominant women’s medley swimmer ever, winning four consecutive world titles over both the 200 and 400-meter distances, none of the wins particularly close, as well as dominant Olympic titles in 2016. Hosszu set a pair of remarkable records, annihilating the 400 IM mark by more than two seconds on the way to Olympic gold in 4:26.36 and edging out the supersuit-aided record in the 200 IM by three hundredths in 2:06.12. None of Hosszu’s contemporaries came close to those marks, with only one of her rivals ever clearing 2:07 in the 200 IM and none ever breaking 4:30 in the 400 IM.

Now, if anyone can qualify for the title of world’s top female medley swimmer, it is Summer McIntosh, a 17-year-old Canadian who is not far off Hosszu’s pace in the 200 IM and already two seconds quicker than Hosszu or anyone else in history in the 400 IM. McIntosh first broke Hosszu’s 400 IM world record last year with a time of 4:25.87, and she later captured her second consecutive world title in the race. McIntosh did not race the 200 IM internationally in 2023, but she did become only the fourth woman ever to break 2:07 with a time of 2:06.89.

One year later, and McIntosh has made even further strides, and the results showed this week at Canada’s Olympic Trials as she obliterated her previous world record in the 400 IM and also firmed up her spot as one of the favorites for 200 IM gold at the Paris Games.

summer mcintosh

Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Michael P. Hall/Swimming Canada

The 400 IM was midway through the meet, and up to that point, it was unclear what sort of form McIntosh was carrying into the selection meet. Perhaps she was saving her full taper for the Olympics and aiming to do just enough to earn spots in all her main events. Her results in the 400 and 200 free seemed to confirm that.

Then she dropped her world record by one-and-a-half seconds, clocking 4:24.38. How? Almost exclusively through improvements on one stroke, a discipline previously considered her weakest.

McIntosh excels the most in butterfly and freestyle, and she first broke Hosszu’s world record by crushing the Hungarian’s splits on the opening leg (by 1.44 seconds) and on the way home (by 1.30 seconds) and merely doing enough in backstroke and breaststroke.

In her latest swim, McIntosh was slightly faster than her previous split in fly and actually slightly slower in backstroke and freestyle. In breaststroke, though, McIntosh split 1:17.13, demolishing the 1:18.92 she swam in breaking the record last year. She is still a second back of the 1:16.11 split that Hosszu provided eight years ago, but that does not matter when a swimmer’s butterfly and freestyle are so electric.

Here is the split comparison:

  • Hosszu 2016: 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 2023: 27.82, 59.47 (31.65), 1:33.70 (34.23), 2:06.39 (32.69), 2:45.13 (38.74), 3:25.31 (40.18), 3:56.18 (30.87), 4:25.87 (29.69)
  • McIntosh 2024: 27.55, 59.18 (31.63), 1:33.31 (34.13), 2:06.30 (32.99), 2:44.22 (37.92), 3:23.43 (39.21), 3:54.66 (31.23), 4:24.38 (29.72)

In the longer medley, only six women have ever broken 4:30: Stephanie Rice and Kirsty Coventry did so at the 2008 Olympics (while wearing polyurethane suits), and then, Ye Shiwen and Hosszu each broke world records in their gold-medal-winning swims before McIntosh arrived on the scene. The only other swimmer to join that club is Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, who clocked 4:28.22 last month, but she has insisted she will not race the 400 IM in Tokyo.

The time required to earn silver at last year’s World Championships was 4:31.41 — a mark now seven full seconds behind McIntosh’s new standard. So far this year, only two swimmers aside from McIntosh and McKeown have even broken 4:35, with Great Britain’s Freya Colbert and Hungary’s Vivian Jackl both in the 4:34-range.

The chances of anyone beating McIntosh in the 400 IM at the Paris Olympics? Extremely low.

Summer McIntosh — Photo Courtesy: Michael P. Hall/Swimming Canada

The 200 IM, on the other hand, could be one of the top races of the Games, with several swimmers likely to compete for medals on day eight of the meet having already won multiple individual honors. McIntosh was slightly off her Canadian record in winning the event on the final evening of Canadian Trials, clocking 2:07.06 in her closer-than-expected win over Sydney Pickrem.

McIntosh should be considered the slight favorite for gold, but she will have to deal with world champions Kate Douglass and Alex Walsh of the United States plus McKeown, who will swim the shorter medley in Paris and clocked 2:06.99 for a new Australian record last month. Pickrem swam a best time of 2:07.68 to finish second at Trials while Torri Huske, Yu Yiting, Marrit Steenbergen and Abbie Wood have all clocked 2:08s this year. That is some serious depth.

McIntosh probably has the weakest breaststroke leg among the contenders, but she showed this week she has made some serious strides in that stroke. Her backstroke is on par with everyone else, and her butterfly and freestyle are, of course, sensational. McIntosh had a chance to knock off Hosszu’s record in the 200 IM as well, and if the race did not take place on the final night of a grueling, seven-day competition, she might have pulled it off.

Now, McIntosh will prepare to swim at her second Olympics in an excellent position. In addition to her favored status in the medleys, she is the two-time defending world champion in the 200 fly, where her only serious threat appears to be American Regan Smith, and she will be a top contender in the 200 and 400 free alongside Aussies Ariarne Titmus and Mollie O’Callaghan (200 only). She is key to Canada’s medal hopes in all three women’s relays. If she keeps all five of her individual events events, McIntosh could become the first female swimmer ever to win five individual medals at a single Games.

She was not perfect at Trials, but improvements in her weakest stroke allowed McIntosh to set an unbelievable world record in the 400 IM while posting still-elite marks in her other events. If she can reach her full peak in Paris, the results will be special.

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Jeff in Canada
Jeff in Canada
14 days ago

“If she keeps all five of her individual events, McIntosh could become the first female swimmer ever to win five individual medals at a single Games.”

Cheering for Summer all the way, but don’t forget that Shane Gould won five individual medals at Munich in 1972.

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