She is Canada’s newest dream sensation in the pool.
Just one thing. Chop the word dream when you talk about the youngster who shines all year – Summer McIntosh. Also, make a note of the name because you’ll be hearing a lot more about her success in the years to come.
As a 14-year old with triumphs and achievements that have shattered the Canadian swim scene, McIntosh hasn’t received the spotlight she deserves by the mainstream media or even the national sports body. That is, until she permeated the opposition – including childhood idol Penny Oleksiak - at the delayed Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Toronto.
In 2016, it was Oleksiak, now the veteran, who became the youngest Canadian to ever win Olympic gold, sharing the top of the 100-metre freestyle podium with Simone Manuel, from the United States. Oleksiak would add more to her collection with a total of four medals in six days, and carried the Canadian flag in the closing ceremony of the Brazil Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, five years later, and dealing with the effects of some 17 months of a coronavirus pandemic, it’s time for a new phenom, McIntosh, to take a shot at the big show.
What’s ironic is that McIntosh doesn’t celebrate her 15th birthday until 10 days after the 2021 Olympics ends. A star with the Etobicoke Swim Club, McIntosh is expected to be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, to compete for Canada at the world classic, which is set for July 23 to August 8 in Tokyo.
McIntosh broke her own Canadian age group record for 13-14 year-olds, with a time of one minute, 56.19 seconds in the women's 200-metre freestyle event at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Oleksiak, now 21 years old, was clocked in 1:57.24.
A day later, in the 800 metres, McIntosh was back at it, stealing the show with a startling performance. Timed in eight minutes, 29.28 seconds, and well under the Olympic qualifying line and six seconds faster than her previous career best, people were talking and social media trying to understand what had just happened.
“I think it’s the same for every race,” McIntosh told reporters. “I just figure out my race strategy, what I’m trying to hold, what I am trying to be out in, and assess my training, talk with my coaches and see what I am able to do.”
McIntosh doesn’t need to remind anyone of her performance times, which reflect her gutsy training. She moved to the Pan Am pool to train alongside Oleksiak, a close friend, in March of 2020, after the death of her former coach Kevin Thorburn.
Just weeks away from the Olympics, it was quite the back-to-back performance for McIntosh, who is in the Exceptional Athlete Program at Silverthorn Collegiate. Oleksiak was a former student at Monarch Park Secondary. Both schools are in the Toronto District School Board – the largest in Canada.
McIntosh’s introduction to water came as a toddler, benefitting from the family pool, one they heat up in the winter so McIntosh could stay in shape. Her rise to fame in the water came around age 10, when she was a student at Holycrest Middle School.
Check the Canadian historical swim record books, and you might think someone has maliciously inflated the official statistics. Even tampered with names and times. Not so, if you’re raising any questions about McIntosh. She has proved time and time again how superb she is as an athlete in the water.
McIntosh has been nothing short of unbelievable. It’s also no fluke, that almost every time the aggressive and ambitious youngster entered the competitive pool, she left with a dazzling performance.
Imbued in genealogy success, McIntosh appears to be following the success of her mother – the former Jill Horstead, a 1984 Canadian Olympic swimmer, and former All-American swimmer who attended the University of Florida. The genetics are such that McIntosh, based on what she has been able to accomplish so far, certainly has the potential to be even better.
Exceptional is a word associated with the achievements of the teenager.
A quick glance will reveal McIntosh has established more than 50 Canadian age group records. Setting National records, in many cases, means the Provincial records also are supplemental to her triumphs. So, that number is, actually, far greater.
Simply put, Mcintosh is good – real good.
“I want to have fun, keep learning and be a strong competitor,” McIntosh said in a 2020 story for Swim Ontario. “
Of the dozens of age group records McIntosh has broken in the past couple of years, the longest standing one was 45 years old. It was in the 11 and 12-year old category for the 800 metre freestyle mark that was originally set by Shannon Smith in 1974. McIntosh broke this record by more than five seconds in a time of nine minutes, 07.16 at the Central Region A championship in January of 2019.
By the end of the season, eight months later, McIntosh had taken an incredible 20 seconds off the original record, clocked in an official time of 8:51.71. Just 12 years of age, she earned a bronze medal at her first Canadian Senior Swim Championship in Winnipeg.
Her times have been so impressive that Ontario age class individual medley records, once owned by Allison Higson (200m in 1986) and Joanne Malar (400m in 1988), both who competed at several Olympic and international events, now belong to McIntosh.
McIntosh has lots of decisions still to confront, like pondering a career.
There’s also contemplating her choice of schools for post-secondary studies. Much to the dismay of Canadian universities, it’s likely to be in the United States. McIntosh has what it takes to have the swim powerhouses in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) come knocking on her door with lucrative scholarship packages.
For now, with compliments and praise shadowing her, the focus is staying healthy and zeroing in on improving her skills. Silverthorn, not far from her home, has a nationally acclaimed school program that caters to high performance cream-of-the crop athletes, allowing flexible timetables for students to stick with their intense sports training schedules.
Some might wonder how this all bodes for McIntosh, a focussed, articulate and polished individual with academic honors in the classroom as well.
Lindsay Watt remembers those early days of McIntosh in the pool. Watt was her first swim coach.
“She was quick, strong, very agile and ahead of her peers,” said Watt, who worked with McIntosh for three years before she switched swim clubs. “(Summer) just had something special. It became evident every year that there was no ceiling for her. Success made her keep chasing. Now, I know she has the capacity to be on the world stage.”
As for what lies ahead, time will tell.
“Coaching has been very important to me, building relationships, learning and improving – it’s what shapes you,” said McIntosh. “It’s cool knowing your mother was a great swimmer, understands, gives you advice and encouragement. I know I’m on track - and just keep pushing forward.”
By: David Grossman - July 2021