A year after breakout, Canada's McIntosh returns to Toronto pool a star and wins gold

TORONTO — Summer McIntosh delivered a breakout performance at last year's Olympic trials. She returns to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre for this week's World Cup as a bonafide swimming star.

McIntosh didn't disappoint in her homecoming, winning gold Friday night in the women's 400-metre freestyle in a Canadian record time of three minutes 52.8 seconds.

American superstar Katie Ledecky settled for silver in 3:52.88, while Siobhán Bernadette Haughey of Hong Kong claimed the bronze in 3:58.50.

A virtual unknown outside of swimming circles when she qualified for the Tokyo Games as a 14-year-old, there's no mistaking her presence now.

A large poster of McIntosh dominates the wall near the entry to the east-Toronto venue. Sporting a Funkita swimsuit after signing a sponsorship deal last June, her recent accomplishments are listed in block letters below her name: Commonwealth Games record-holder and dual world champion.

Not bad for someone who celebrated her 16th birthday just over two months ago.

"I think she's a really balanced individual and that's what leads to her success," said coach Ryan Mallette. "She can turn it on when she's at the pool and she can turn it off when she's away from the pool."

McIntosh is a headliner at the three-day World Cup in her hometown along with Canadian teammates Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., Toronto's Javier Acevedo, Markham, Ont., native Josh Liendo and Kylie Masse, a native of LaSalle, Ont.

Mac Neil, Masse and teammate Ingrid Wilm swept the women 50 backstroke on Friday.

Mac Neil, who captured three medals at the Tokyo Games, won gold in time of 25.96. Masse, a backstroke specialist who won four medals in Tokyo, finished in 26.02.

Toronto's Penny Oleksiak, still out after knee surgery, will not compete. It was Oleksiak — Canada's most-decorated Olympian — who delivered the quote of the trials last year, describing McIntosh as "all gas, no brakes."

Masse, who has trained with McIntosh over the last two years, agreed with the assessment.

"She's always ahead and always pushing the boundaries," she said.

McIntosh won gold in the 200- and 800-metre freestyle at the trials and barely missed the podium in Tokyo. She was fourth in the 400 free and the 4×200 free relay at the Games, setting Canadian records in both events.

She reached the podium three times at last year's world championships and won four medals at this year's worlds, taking gold in the 200 butterfly and 200 IM.

"When she gets up to race, she gets up to win," said Suzanne Paulins, Swimming Canada's operations and sport development director.

McIntosh kicked off her competitive season Friday morning by winning her heat in the 400 free.

"Coming off a long summer, I was really happy with it," McIntosh said. "I didn't really know what to (expect)."

The FINA event is the second leg of a three-stop fall World Cup circuit. Many swimmers are making season debuts here and getting back up to speed after an off-season break.

"We don't have many expectations just because it's hard to say where everyone is at in October," said Mallette. "We all have long-term focus towards the (2023) world championships (in Japan) and Paris (Olympics in 2024).

"So what we're really thinking about is let's get a good start to the year."

A total of 21 Canadian team members are entered to race this weekend. About 1,000 swimmers from 60 countries will vie for US$224,000 in prize money.

Australia's Kyle Chalmers, American Leah Smith and defending men's World Cup series winner Matthew Sates of South Africa are also in the field.

The World Cup has a regular meet atmosphere and feel. It's a big difference from a trials competition that had pandemic protocols in place. Regular attendance has resumed at the 2,300-seat venue.

"I'm really happy with where I've come since Olympic Trials last year," McIntosh said. "I hope to continue the momentum and keep on improving."

McIntosh is entered in six events this weekend.

"Where she separates herself is that she floats on the water really, really well," Mallette said. "She's super buoyant. She's an amazingly talented technician. She swims all four strokes really well.

"She swims everything at a level that most people can only dream at. She works hard at her craft, that's for sure."

Mac Neil finished second in the women's 50-metre freestyle later Friday night. Katarzyna Wasick of Poland won the event in 23.27, with Mac Neil next at 23.74. Madison Wilson of Australia was third in 23.89.

Competition continues through Sunday. Indianapolis will host the next World Cup stop from Nov. 3-5.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press