Summer’s Olympics? Meet the teen who could topple Titmus

By Tom Decent

Canadian swimming sensational Summer McIntosh is a Funkita ambassador.Credit:Funkita

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The phone rings. It’s a Canadian number. “Hey there, it’s Summer.” On a first-name basis, Summer isn’t a household name. Yet.

But when the Paris Olympics begin in 15 months’ time, reporters from around the globe will be wanting a piece of Summer McIntosh.

They’ll want to know how this teenager from Toronto transformed into the most talked about female swimmer in the world.

Summer McIntosh is all smiles after one of her five victories at last month’s Canadian trials.Credit:AP

Many Australians already know who McIntosh is.

Last month, the 16-year-old stunned the swimming world when she broke Ariarne Titmus’ 400m freestyle world record at the Canadian swimming trials by 0.32 of a second.

Four days later, McIntosh motored through the water to smash the 400m individual medley world record. McIntosh won her three other events and broke the junior world record in each.

When she competed at the Tokyo Olympics, she still had braces. At 14, she was the youngest Canadian athlete in 45 years.

Now fitter and faster, McIntosh could enter as many as five individual events in Paris: the 200m and 400m freestyle, 200m and 400m individual medleys, plus the 200m butterfly.

No-one in the world this year has swum faster than McIntosh in those five events.

Last month Katie Ledecky, regarded as the greatest female swimmer of all-time, lost a race on US soil for the first time in nine years – to McIntosh.

If she continues on her trajectory McIntosh could become the female equivalent of Michael Phelps – the greatest Olympian of all time.

“I have two tabby cats. Their names are Mikey and Riley. Mikey is actually named after Michael Phelps,” McIntosh says.

“When he was a little kitten, he really liked water. Cats usually hate water. So we decided to call him Michael Phelps.”

McIntosh misses her cats. She’s in Sarasota, Florida, away from her family home in Canada.

Summer McIntosh will represent Canada at this year’s World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka. Credit:Funkita

It’s where she will remain as she builds towards Paris 2024. For now, she is recuperating and trying to digest her astonishing feats at the Canadian trials.

The daughter of a Canadian Olympic swimmer, Jill Horstead, and the sister of a Canadian figure-skating champion, Brooke McIntosh, the mature star of her sport doesn’t sound overwhelmed by the interest in her rapid rise.

Is she sick of the interviews?

“It’s definitely a lot … I just kind of just have to manage it,” McIntosh tells this masthead. “I try not to do too much media, so I can stay focused on the main goal.

“[After breaking two world records] it was probably the most messages I’ve ever got … on Instagram, normal text messages, Snapchat, and also from my friends and family. It’s pretty cool just to see people are watching along and cheering me on.”

Though maybe not in Australia.

For Titmus, the past four years had been the stuff that dreams are made of.

In 2019, she stormed home to beat Ledecky, her arch-rival, in the 400m freestyle at the World Championships. Two years later, Titmus made it double gold in the 200m and 400m freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics.

In that 400m final, a 14-year-old Canadian in lane two touched the wall in fourth place, 5.73 seconds behind Titmus.

At last year’s Commonwealth Games, in the same event, McIntosh touched the wall in second place, 1.26 seconds behind Titmus.

The World Championships take place in Fukuoka in July. Could that same Canadian teenager finally mow down the ‘Terminator’?

Summer McIntosh, Ariarne Titmus and Kiah Melverton receive their medals after the womens’ 400m final at the Commonwealth Games.Credit:AP

“I’m definitely still in shock,” McIntosh says. “I don’t think it’ll ever fully sink in. It’s an honour to have a world record.

“I actually didn’t know exactly what the world record was. I knew it was a 3:56. I just remember seeing the pace clock [at the 300-metre mark] and thought ‘oh my gosh, I have a shot at breaking the world record’. Then I just started swinging my arms … I kind of went into autopilot.”

There is mutual respect between the Australian and the Canadian.

“She’s very, very tough,” says McIntosh of Titmus. “She had the world record … and she’s a fighter. She’s such an amazing swimmer. It’s always an honour just to race against her and watch her race. She’s definitely part of the history books.

“Australians are known to be super ‘chillax’ in the ready room. She was talking about where she was going to go on vacation after [the Commonwealth Games]. It’s cool to see people that you’ve admired for so long and then get to hold a conversation with them and then race them. She’s very down to earth.”

McIntosh has never been to Australia – “I would love to … but I’ve heard some horror stories about snakes and spiders” – but has an Aussie connection.

McIntosh has the world at her feet. Credit:Funkita

She’s an ambassador for Funkita – a popular Australian swimwear brand that once sponsored Titmus.

“I’ve literally been wearing Funkita since I can remember. As a little kid I always loved their patterns,” McIntosh says. “They’re always so different from other training brands. I’m honestly honoured just to be with them. If I told my younger self that I was sponsored with ‘Funky’, my mind would have been blown.”

Ian Thorpe was 16 years and 10 months when he set his first world record in 1999. McIntosh pipped Thorpe by three months.

In a 2021 podcast with his former Australian teammate Brett Hawke, Thorpe attributed his success as a teenager to the naivety and fearlessness of youth.

“There’s a benefit of being young,” Thorpe said. “A young person’s outlook of the world is that you can accomplish anything.”

Ian Thorpe after winning gold in the 400m freestyle at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.Credit:Getty

McIntosh agrees.

“A lot of my fearlessness actually comes from when I used to do figure skating,” McIntosh says. “You’ve got blades on your feet and you’re jumping in the air, so it’s a lot more nerve-wracking. You’re the only one on the ice, so swimming’s a piece of cake.

“I have really trained myself to only care what me and my coach think. The outside noise and world is just noise. It will never affect what I do in the pool.”

Next week, it’s Titmus’ turn to make a statement. She’s in the pool at the Australian Swimming Championships, beginning on Monday at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre.

Ariarne Titmus is back in the pool next week at the Australian Swimming Championships. Credit:Getty

There is no pressure and nothing at stake, given Australia’s trials for the World Championships don’t take place until June.

McIntosh will be keeping an eye on what time Titmus swims – in the 200m and 400m freestyle – but it won’t bother her too much.

“I just want to be the best that I can be,” McIntosh says. “[Every training] is another big step towards what I need to be able to do if I want to reach my full potential.”

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