At 17, swimmer Summer McIntosh is ready to be a breakout star at Paris Olympics


Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.


TORONTO — Summer McIntosh waited before making her entrance.

It was mid-May, the fourth night of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Swimming Trials. McIntosh, who swam the first two nights, was ready to race the 400-meter individual medley, an event in which she is already, at age 17, a world-record-holder and a two-time world champion.

Summer McIntosh!” yelled the public address announcer.

McIntosh stood underneath a replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. She was the last swimmer to be called. McIntosh walked to Lane 5, serenaded with roars from the crowd. She adjusted her goggles, putting her hands over the lenses as she stepped onto the starting blocks.

The beep sounded, and McIntosh dove into the pool. Eight lengths. One hundred meters for each stroke: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle.

Ten seconds into the race, McIntosh had the lead. Through 100 meters, she was a body length in front. By the final 50 meters, McIntosh was the only swimmer visible on the broadcast. She was that far ahead of her competition.

The cheers crescendoed as McIntosh swam the finishing length. Her parents, Greg and Jill, stood up and waved their arms.

McIntosh broke her own world record as she touched the wall, posting a 4:24.38, almost a second and a half faster than her previous mark.

The 10 fastest women’s 400m IMs ever

Rank Swimmer Nationality Time Year Event

1

Summer McIntosh

Canada

4:24.38

2024

Canadian Olympic trials

2

Summer McIntosh

Canada

4:25.87

2023

Canadian swimming trials

3

Katinka Hosszu

Hungary

4:26.36

2016

Rio Olympics (final)

4

Summer McIntosh

Canada

4:27.11

2023

World Aquatics championships

5

Kaylee McKeown

Australia

4:28.22

2024

Australian national championships

6

Shiwen Ye

China

4:28.43

2012

London Olympics

7

Katinka Hosszu

Hungary

4:28.58

2016

Rio Olympics (heats)

8

Summer McIntosh

Canada

4:28.61

2022

Toyota U.S. Open

9

Summer McIntosh

Canada

4:29.01

2022

Commonwealth Games

10

Katinka Hosszu

Hungary

4:29.33

2017

FINA world championships

It was a crowning achievement at an Olympic Trials where, in several instances, she swam the fastest times in the world this year.

This is McIntosh’s stage. Racing in front of energetic crowds. Where she has fun and feels at ease.

“The crowd was absolutely electric,” McIntosh said of the fans during her world-record swim. “I heard all you guys during the breaststroke — it really kept me going.”

In a few weeks, McIntosh will go from swimming in front of an Eiffel Tower replica to the confines of Paris La Défense Arena, home of the swimming events for the 2024 Paris Olympics, eight kilometers from the actual Eiffel Tower.

In the “City of Lights,” the Canadian swimming sensation is ready to shine.


McIntosh has deep swimming roots. Her mom, Jill, swam for Canada at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. McIntosh followed in her mom’s footsteps, swimming competitively starting at 8 years old. Away from the pool, McIntosh drew inspiration from American stars Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps. In her childhood room, McIntosh hung up posters of Ledecky. She named one of her cats “Mikey” in honor of Phelps. And she watched highlights of Phelps’ historic 2008 Beijing Games, where he won eight gold medals.

Swimming at the Etobicoke Swim Club, McIntosh gained national attention. At 12, McIntosh lowered a 45-year-old Canadian age-group record in the 800-meter freestyle. At 14, she beat Penny Oleksiak, Canada’s most decorated Olympian, in the 200-meter freestyle at the 2020 Canadian Olympic Trials, securing her place on Canada’s team for the Tokyo Olympics.

She didn’t win any medals in Tokyo. But success soon followed.

Two Commonwealth Games gold medals in her first appearance there. Four world championship golds combined in 2022 and 2023. World-record-holder in the 400-meter IM. All by 17 years old.


At Canada’s Olympic trials, 17-year-old Summer McIntosh set a world record in the 400-meter IM. She’ll be a medal contender in five events in Paris. (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star / Getty Images)

One major reason is McIntosh relocating to Sarasota, Fla., to train with coach Brent Arckey of the Sarasota Sharks. With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions still in Ontario, McIntosh needed a pool to swim full-time.

The Selby Aquatic Center in Sarasota, known as the “Shark Tank,” was the perfect place. Olympic-sized pool. A friendly yet competitive environment. A coach in Arckey, who has experience coaching Olympians.

It’s a regimented training program for McIntosh. Four days a week she swims twice, early morning (6:30 to 8:30 a.m) and late afternoon (3 to 5 p.m.). The wake-ups can be as early as 4:15 a.m.

Dry-land training exercises. Two hours in the pool. Repeat.

This is what it takes to be among the world’s best swimmers. Even on tough days, McIntosh relishes the preparation for Paris.

“Motivation isn’t something that you always have every single day,” McIntosh told The Athletic in November. “It comes in waves. But I always have that discipline to no matter how I feel when I wake up, I get to the pool and I try my hardest.”


The Paris Olympic swimming program opens with a seismic race. The women’s 400-meter freestyle — on July 27, the first full day of events in France — will likely feature a clash between McIntosh, Ledecky and reigning Olympic and world champion Ariarne Titmus.

The last time these three raced together was the 400-meter freestyle at last year’s world championships. Titmus swam to a world record. Ledecky finished second while McIntosh was off the podium in fourth.

It’s from the bad races where McIntosh says she learns and grows. After a conversation with Arckey and a day off from competition, McIntosh responded with four medals the rest of the meet: two gold (200-meter butterfly and 400-meter IM) and two bronze (200-meter free and 4×100-meter medley relay).

McIntosh raced Ledecky, her idol, at the Toyota U.S. Open almost five months after the 2023 worlds, beating the American in the 400 free with a meet-record time. They met again in Orlando last February, where McIntosh ended Ledecky’s 13-year reign in the 800-meter freestyle. Ledecky, who has recorded the 29 fastest 800-meter times in history, hadn’t lost a final in the event since 2010.

At the Canadian Olympic trials, McIntosh won the 400-meter freestyle in 3:59.06. It’s the fastest 400-meter freestyle of 2024, faster than McIntosh’s world-championship run but almost four seconds slower than Titmus’ world record (3:55.38). For most of the race, McIntosh was under the world-record pace. But she was frustrated after, believing she could do better.

“I know I can go faster. I’ve got to keep pushing forward,” McIntosh said.

Arckey sees McIntosh’s 400-meter freestyle result differently. Two months out from Paris, there’s a pathway for improvement.

“You’re not going to be making wholesale changes,” Arckey told The Athletic after trials. “It’s her second fastest time ever and the fastest time in the world currently. She’s hard on her herself. Certainly some things to do better, no doubt. That’s what the good ones do.”

McIntosh trials times vs. last Olympics

Event McIntosh at 2024 trials Gold at Tokyo Games McIntosh’s time vs. Tokyo field

200m freestyle

1:53.69

1:53.50 (Ariarne Titmus)

Silver

400m freestyle

3:59.06

3:56.69 (Titmus)

Bronze

200m butterfly

2:04.33

2:03.86 (Zhang Yufei)

Silver

200m medley

2:07.06

2:08.52 (Yui Ohashi)

Gold

400m medley

4:24.38

4:32.08 (Ohashi)

Gold


It’s the end of the Canadian Olympic trials and McIntosh, qualified for the Olympics, is again waiting to be called to the pool deck, joining her Swimming Canada teammates. As she walks out with Arckey, who is also a coach for the Canadian national team, she has a long embrace with her mom.

Jill has been with Summer every step of her young swimming career. And the family will be in Paris watching Summer compete for her first Olympic medals.

After trials, McIntosh travels back to Sarasota to train at the Shark Tank. A couple days of rest and then back to the pool for the final eight-week push.

Arckey said that he and McIntosh will reflect on trials before sharpening the areas to improve for Paris, where the big 400-meter freestyle showdown with Ledecky and Titmus awaits, along with the four other individual events in which McIntosh qualified. After fine-tuning in Sarasota, McIntosh will travel to Normandy for a staging camp with her Swimming Canada teammates. Then the Paris Games.

McIntosh has achieved greatness at international events before. It’s time to do it in Paris, a chance for the Summer Games to be Summer’s games.

Summer McIntosh


“I know I can go faster,” Summer McIntosh says of her 400-meter freestyle. McIntosh, Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky have combined for the 26 fastest-ever times in the event. (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Summer McIntosh, at 17, has everyone’s attention. Now she’s after Olympic glory

(Top illustration: Daniel Goldfarb / The Athletic; photo: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)





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