Summer McIntosh leads Olympic hopefuls into high-pressured Canadian swim trials

Summer McIntosh playfully points to a replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Pan Am pool in Toronto on Saturday. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports - image credit)
Summer McIntosh playfully points to a replica of the Eiffel Tower at the Pan Am pool in Toronto on Saturday. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports - image credit)

With the stakes higher than ever — berths to the Paris 2024 Games on the line — Swimming Canada has spared no details when it comes to setting the scene for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic swimming trials.

Swimmers competing at the trials will walk out of an entrance for the finals under a replica of the Eiffel Tower, a not-so-subtle reminder of what's up for grabs for the more than 850 Canadian athletes who are looking to earn a spot on Team Canada in Paris this summer.

"I'm so excited. Walking in here and seeing the little Paris Eiffel Tower thing on top of the walkout stage is pretty surreal," Summer McIntosh told CBC Sports on Saturday morning.

"There's a lot of anticipation going into all of this. I've been through this situation many times before. There's so much excitement as well. I'm trying to stay as calm as possible."

This is a very different setting inside the Pan Am Sports in Toronto compared to three years ago when the last trials took place – those trials were in the midst of a pandemic when no fans were allowed to attend and swimmers were wearing masks on the pool deck before their races.

Starting Monday, and running through until Sunday, fans will pack the venue, cheering on Canadian swimmers as they look to qualify for the Games this summer. A number of the evening final sessions are already sold out.

Preliminary heats are at 9:27 a.m. ET each day, with finals sessions set for 5:45 p.m. ET. All sessions are being streamed live on CBC Sports digital platforms, with a nightly highlight show on CBC TV. Live streams can be watched via the free CBC Gem streaming service, at and the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices.

WATCH | Summer McIntosh excited to race in front of energetic fans:

McIntosh preparing for 2nd Olympic Games

McIntosh is preparing to qualify for her second Games. Three short years ago she earned a spot on the team for the Tokyo Olympics at 14 years old. Now she's favoured to win a number of medals at the Games and is considered a generational talent in the sport.

"It's definitely different. Being able to have people in the stands this time is going to be so exciting. It'll be electric at night during the finals," McIntosh said.

"Going into 2021 trials I was so young and learning so much. I grew so much during that time period."

McIntosh will be competing in seven different events throughout the trials. Her Sarasota Sharks coach Brent Arckey is in Toronto this week and will be on the pool deck throughout the trials.

He says the pressure is starting to ramp up and the trials are making everything really come into focus ahead of the Olympics.

"It's fun. It's stressful. But it's part of the game. The fun part comes with some stress and challenging yourself," Arckey said.

"Summer and I at this point are just supporting each other along the way, which I think is good. It's a lot of fun doing this together."

Arckey says he continues to be impressed by the level of poise and composure McIntosh is exuding, even as the Games draw nearer.

"I actually see her getting more focused as the pressure rises, as the greats do," he said. "They know when it's go time and start focusing in."

Devin Heroux/CBC Sports
Devin Heroux/CBC Sports

Many talented swimmers

McIntosh is one of many talented swimmers who will be looking to earn a spot to Paris at the trials – many have called this the golden generation for Canadian swimming and that will certainly be on display at the Pan Am Sports Centre.

Penny Oleksiak, Taylor Ruck, Aurelie Rivard, Sydney Pickrem, Josh Liendo, Nicholas Bennett, Nic Turbide, Finlay Knox, Javier Acevado, Mary-Sophie Harvey, Tess Routliffe and Kat Savard are just a handful of the higher profile swimmers who will feature prominently throughout trials.

Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil is trying to become the first woman to not only defend 100-metre butterfly gold, but also the only woman to have won gold in the event twice at the Games.

"I still can't believe this all starts in a couple of days. I don't think it's hit me yet," Mac Neil said.

"I definitely want to improve on my performances for a month ago at the Canadian Open. They were decent for where I was at but I want to put up stronger times. I'm just trying to put together the perfect race for where I'm at now."

Swimming Canada high-performance director John Atkinson says he's eager to see where the Canadian swimmers are at in this high-pressure environment.

"I think everyone is feeling good. There are always moments of anticipation at this point. The final things are being put into place," he said.

"We'll have newer athletes and we'll have our veterans. When you see it coming together it's exciting. We're all on the same path to Paris. The depth is fantastic. If you look to the left, to the right and ahead we have multiple athletes who can have a great Games in Paris."

Devin Heroux/CBC Sports
Devin Heroux/CBC Sports

Paralympians ready for trials

This event also serves as the Paralympic qualifier for Canadian swimmers. Danielle Dorris had a breakout performance in Tokyo three years ago, winning gold and silver in her Paralympic debut.

The Olympic and Paralympic trial finals will be running at the same time each evening, something Dorris says is a great thing for awareness when it comes to Para sport.

"I'm super excited to have it all integrated into one final at the same time. During the 2016 trials it was still integrated but they had the Para events at the end of the day. By that point everyone was leaving," she said.

"I'm so excited and so ready for this. I've been anticipating coming here for a while. I can't wait to hear the fans cheering. It'll be such a great atmosphere I'll be soaking in."

Kylie Masse, who is a four-time Olympic medallist, is looking to earn a berth to her third Olympics.

"Another trials. It feels so nice to be back here and see my teammates and friends who have been on this journey for years. As we get closer and closer I'm getting more and more excited."

"Nothing is ever a given and I'm grateful for every opportunity. There's definitely pressure. It's the Olympic Games and it's our one chance to make it. This is our shot. We have to embrace the pressure and all that comes with that."

WATCH | Kylie Masse looks ahead to the Olympics:

The Olympic Games run from July 26-Aug. 11 and Paralympic Games take place from Aug. 28-Sept. 8 in Paris.