Teen swimming sensation Summer McIntosh leads Canadian medal haul with world title, relay bronze

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Canada's Summer McIntosh celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the women's 200-metre butterfly on Wednesday at the aquatics world championships. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images - image credit)
Canada's Summer McIntosh celebrates on the podium after winning gold in the women's 200-metre butterfly on Wednesday at the aquatics world championships. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images - image credit)

At just 15 years old, Canadian Summer McIntosh asserted herself as a swimming force on Wednesday at the aquatics world championships.

In the first event of the day, the Toronto native won her first career world championship gold medal in the 200-metre butterfly. Later, in the last race on the schedule, she powered Canada to bronze in the women's 4x200m freestyle relay with an opening leg that would have been fast enough to win individual gold.

McIntosh wasn't the only Canadian teen to make waves on Wednesday, either.

Josh Liendo, 19, reached his first-ever podium at worlds, swimming to bronze in the men's 100m freestyle.

And relative team veteran Kylie Masse added a new accolade of her own, capturing the country's second gold medal of the day in the 50m backstroke.

McIntosh now has the full set of medals at worlds after previously earning silver in the 400m freestyle. She earned her gold with a world-junior record of two minutes 5.20 seconds, breaking the mark she set in semifinals Tuesday.

"I think I'm a little bit in shock right now," she said after the race.

WATCH | McIntosh bursts to gold medal:

American Hali Flickinger took silver in 2:06.08, while China's Zhang Yufei scored bronze in 2:06.32.

McIntosh bided her time en route to victory, keeping close to the leaders through 100 metres while making sure not to empty the gas tank too early.

McIntosh made her move at the halfway point. She took over the lead at the 150-metre mark and only extended it down the homestretch, turning what looked like it could be a tight finish into a no-doubt victory for the Canadian.

"I didn't expect to go 2:05," McIntosh said. "But as soon as I stepped out with all the energy and excitement from the crowd, I just fed off that. I got a lot of adrenaline and motivation and put it down."

That unexpected time was over eight seconds faster than McIntosh's mother Jill Horstead swam to finish ninth at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

The gold medal also marked the first podium appearance ever for Canada in the women's 200m butterfly at worlds.

WATCH | McIntosh leads Canadian relay bronze:

Not even two hours later, McIntosh led off the relay team, followed by Kayla Sanchez, Taylor Ruck and Penny Oleksiak.

The teen got the Canadians out to a massive lead with a time of 1:54.79 that would have been good enough for gold had she competed in the individual 200m freestyle. It also marked McIntosh's second world junior title of the day.

The rest of the squad just had to hang on from there, which they barely did. Canada held off fourth-place China by less than a second, finishing in 7:44.76.

"It was fun to be a part of," said Oleksiak, the team's anchor who also swam in the women's 100 freestyle semifinals. "It was a tough double for me but having the girls really helped."

Katie Ledecky claimed her 18th gold at a worlds by helping the United States win the event with a championship record of 7:41.45, while Australia snagged silver in 7:43.86. The 25-year-old Ledecky now has 21 medals, extending her record for the most among female swimmers in the competition.

WATCH | Behind McIntosh's generational talent:

It's the seventh career medal at worlds — all earned in relays — for Oleksiak, matching Masse for the national record and equalling her Olympic total.

She'll have a shot at her first individual podium on Thursday at 12:02 p.m. ET, when she'll compete in the 100m freestyle final alongside Sanchez. Oleksiak won gold in the event at the 2016 Olympics.

McIntosh had two fourth-place finishes at last year's Tokyo Olympics and won a gold and two silver medals at the 2021 short-course championships last December in Abu Dhabi.

WATCH | The significance of Lane 4:

Liendo brings home bronze

Liendo took an alternate approach from McIntosh, getting off the blocks quickly and reaching the 50-metre mark in first place.

But the Markham, Ont., native, who became the first Black Canadian to win a medal at a major international meet at the short-course championships, couldn't maintain his blistering pace over the final 50m.

Even still, Liendo stayed strong enough to touch third with a time of 47.71 seconds. Romania's David Popovici topped the podium in 47.58 seconds, and France's Maxime Grousset took silver in 47.64 seconds.

WATCH | Liendo takes bronze in 100m freestyle:

American Caeleb Dressel, a seven-time Olympic medallist and a favourite in the event, withdrew from the rest of the competition for unspecified medical reasons ahead of the race.

"He's just not fit to compete right now. And so we just needed to make that decision. It needed to be a quick decision," American team manager Lindsay Mintenko told journalists.

Mintenko said she could not be more specific about the reasons for Dressel's withdrawal, but that he may decide to speak about it himself. She declined to say whether it was a mental or physical problem. Dressel had appeared in good shape.

He had pulled out of Tuesday's semifinals in the 100m freestyle and it wasn't clear at the time if he'd be able to continue. He was also due to race the 50m freestyle and 100m butterfly later in the worlds.

Masse golden again

Masse, the two-time reigning 100m backstroke champion who relinquished her title to American Regan Smith earlier at worlds but held on for silver, said that race was out of her mind by the time she got to the pool on Wednesday.

"Totally new race. 50 is fun, I think it's a dream to come to the pool and only swim one length," the LaSalle, Ont., native said poolside.

Masse stormed to an early lead in the non-Olympic event, but appeared to fall back to the pack as the race approached its quick end.

Yet the Canadian found one final gear, out-touching American Katharine Berkoff with a time of 27.31 seconds to win gold.

"It goes by really fast. I'm just focusing on nailing the touch because I know it comes down to the small details," she said.

WATCH | Masse golden in 50m backstroke:

Masse became the first swimmer from Canada, male or female, to win three golds at a worlds.

Berkoff finished in 27.39 seconds, with bronze medallist Analia Pigree of France just one one-hundredth of a second behind.

Canada's Ingrid Wilm barely missed the podium, placing fourth in 27.43 seconds.

"I had a horrible touch," Wilm said. "I know I can do better than that. You have good days and bad days."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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