As Olympics loom, Summer McIntosh building her training without showing rivals too much

With the Olympics more than three months away, Summer McIntosh returns to Toronto this week to compete in the Canadian Open event set to begin Wednesday morning at the Pan Am Sports Centre, with live streaming beginning on CBCSports.ca at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Hometown phenom returns to Toronto for Canadian Open swim meet this week

Canadian female swimmer competes in the Women's 400 Meter Individual Medley Prelims on day 3 of the Toyota US Open on Dec., 01, 2023 at the Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Summer McIntosh, pictured competing at the U.S. Open in 2023 in Greensboro, N.C., has been quietly going about her business in Sarasota, Fla., where she trains, tirelessly working away in the background as the Olympics loom. (Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

It's been two months since Canadian phenom Summer McIntosh sent yet another shockwave across the swimming world, upending the great American swimmer Katie Ledecky in the 800-metre freestyle.

Ledecky had not lost an 800 final for more than 13 years.

It had swimming fans buzzing and wondering if McIntosh would consider adding the event to her Olympic program in Paris this summer. 

When recently asked if that result changed anything, McIntosh's coach Brent Arckey gave a diplomatic response.

"We've been having these conversations for a year and a half now so this is all part of the plan and process for us so it doesn't really change what we're doing for the Olympic Games," Arckey told CBC Sports.

"It's part of what we're trying to do to be the best we can be."

Arckey says they've never been concerned about what other athletes are doing and have focused solely on making McIntosh unbeatable.

"There are so many variables when you start talking about other people. It's not a good use of our time. We know they're there but she has to execute her race plan," he said. 

As for McIntosh, her Canadian-record time of eight minutes 11.39 seconds, beating Ledecky's time of 8:17.12 in that race at the beginning of February, was validation for all the work she's been putting in. 

"I wanted to break that barrier. I was happy with it because it shows my fitness and my work," she said. 

"It's super validating and any time you can get a good swim there's things to learn. It's a good pat on the back for what I've been doing."

WATCH | McIntosh shatters 800m free national record in win over Ledecky:

Toronto's Summer McIntosh smashes 800m national record while beating Katie Ledecky

5 months ago
Duration 9:40
17-year-old Summer McIntosh set a new Canadian record in the women's 800m distance at a meet in Orlando, Fla., swimming to a time of 8:11.39, which beat Katie Ledecky's time of 8:17.12 by nearly six seconds. It's the first time in more than 13 years that Ledecky has lost an 800m final.

Going about her business

Since then, McIntosh has been quietly going about her business in Sarasota, Fla., where she trains, tirelessly working away in the background as the Olympics loom. 

The 17-year-old is returning to Toronto this week to compete in the Canadian Open event set to begin Wednesday morning at the Pan Am Sports Centre, with live streaming beginning on CBCSports.ca at 9:30 a.m. ET.

She'll be competing in seven different events including the 100 freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly, as well as the 200 freestyle, individual medley and 50 freestyle.

McIntosh is leaving the 400 freestyle and individual medley off her program at the Canadian Open. She currently holds the world record in the 400 IM.

A swimmer swims.
McIntosh, pictured competing at the 2023 world championships, had swimming fans buzzing after stunning Ledecky in the 800m race, an event the American hadn’t lost in more than 13 years. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

This week is another chance for McIntosh to build on the training she's been doing over the last five or six weeks without showing the rest of her competitors too much.

"I think it's going to be important to keep perspective and take it day-by-day but always having Paris in the back of my mind for motivation and reaching that end goal," she said.

"Trying to get better each day and focusing on the little details."

The team around McIntosh has made it a priority to keep her in the best frame of mind, managing immense pressure and lofty expectations for the teen who is favoured to win multiple medals at the Olympics.

"Pressure is necessary if you're going to do great things. The great ones understand that. There's an unhealthy side of that but she's surrounded by such great people," Arckey said. 

"We can manage this. You don't get to be great without the pressure and expectations."

Arckey adds he's very pleased with the decisions they've made this season to keep McIntosh fresh and injury-free. 

"I have no problems with where we are. We've made good choices on what events we've attended and we've given her good blocks of work. She's done her job staying healthy and focused. We communicate really well. It's never perfect but it doesn't need to be," he said.

"Of course, it's the Olympic year so things get stressful. We've prepared for that and Summer has a great team around her."

Oleksiak returns

McIntosh is part of a group of talented Canadian swimmers who will be competing in the four-day event just weeks away from the Olympic trials.

Another big storyline this week at the Pan Am Sports Centre is the return of Penny Oleksiak, who will be competing in Canada for the first time in about two years after being plagued by injury.

Canada's most decorated Olympian has been working to get back in peak form ahead of the Paris Games. She's listed to compete in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events. 

Last month Oleksiak swam at a meet for the first time in nearly a year, posting a time of 55.01 in the 100 free. She's been a key part of Canada's relay success for years and should she be able to return to form ahead of Paris, giving the Canadians a shot at podium success once again. 

WATCH | Oleksiak gets back in the pool:

Paris Pulse: Oleksiak resumes swimming; preparing for the largest-ever opening ceremony

4 months ago
Duration 1:29
In our first weekly update of Olympic and Paralympic news, Canadian swim star Penny Oleksiak is back in the pool, plus why Russian and Belarusian Olympians and Paralympians have been ruled eligible to compete as neutral athletes.

Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil will also be attending the event and is listed to compete in the 50 and 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly events. 

Mary-Sophie Harvey, Rebecca Smith, Ella Jansen, Sophie Angue, Kelsey Wog, Ingrid Wilm, Finlay Knox, Yuri Kisil and Javier Acevado are other notables attending the meet. 

In total, 22 Olympic and national team Canadian swimmers will be in the pool competing this week as the Olympic trials approach. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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