Canadian Summer McIntosh sets early tone at Olympic Trials

Canada's Summer McIntosh reacts after winning the women's 200m butterfly final at the World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo)

Canada’s Summer McIntosh was an unheralded swimmer who stole the show at her first Olympic Trials appearance three years ago. 

She returned to the event Monday as a favourite and set the tone for the weeklong competition with a dominating performance in the women’s 400-metre freestyle. 

McIntosh was on world-record pace for most of the race before finishing just off the mark in three minutes 59.06 seconds to lock up a spot at the Paris Games.

“It’s definitely great to qualify on the first night and get the deal sealed,” she said. 

Another heavy favourite, Maggie Mac Neil of London, Ont., also earned a victory at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. The reigning Olympic champion in the 100 butterfly took the top spot in the discipline in 56.61. 

“It’s challenging but also fun being on the first day,” Mac Neil said. “Obviously, you’re fresher, but you don’t know how the meet is going to go and how you’re feeling. So it can go both ways. 

“But I’m pretty happy with today overall.”

Mac Neil was second at the halfway mark but found another gear over the final 50 metres to beat Montreal’s Mary-Sophie Harvey, who also came in under the Olympic qualifying time at 57.31.

Rebecca Smith of Red Deer, Alta., also beat the standard at 57.89 seconds. The top two finishers in each discipline who beat the Olympic standard are technically “qualified to be nominated,” per Swimming Canada wording. 

Swimmers outside the top two who come in under the required time could still be nominated for selection. Federation brass must consider relay options for the Games as well. 

A team announcement on the Paris roster is set for Sunday night. The Canadian Olympic Committee will formally name the competitors ahead of the July 26-Aug. 11 Games.

McIntosh was just 14 when she had her breakout performance here in 2021. She pulled off wins in the 200- and 800-metre freestyle before barely missing the podium in Tokyo. 

She has since risen to the top of the sport, winning world titles and setting records along the way. 

Now 17 and at the top of her game, McIntosh is poised to become one of the big Canadian storylines in Paris. 

She was the last swimmer introduced in her race on Monday night and the hometown crowd roared its approval when she appeared on the deck. McIntosh led by a full body length after just 50 metres and cruised to victory.

“I think every time I swim the 400 freestyle, I learn a little bit more about how to swim the race,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most strategic races in swimming. I’m definitely not happy with that time.

“I know I can go faster. I’ve got to keep pushing forward.”

Mac Neil, who captured three medals in Tokyo, was tested in her race. Smith had a slim lead at the turn and Mac Neil turned it on late for the win. 

“I’ve been swimming this for quite a while and I’ve learned that for me, it’s definitely more effective to go out slower and have a second 50 that’s better than everyone else,” she said.

The 400 free and 100 fly were the only finals where the Olympic standard was met. In other events, Alexander Axon of Newmarket, Ont., won the men’s 400 free in 3:50.10 and Finlay Knox of Okotoks, Alta., took the men’s 100 breaststroke in 1:00.66.

The competition also includes Paralympic trials under a different qualification structure. 

The national para-swimming team for Paris will include a maximum of 15 women and seven men. Nominees must swim ‘A’ or ‘B’ qualifying times as determined by Swimming Canada.

Danielle Dorris of Moncton, N.B., finished first in the women’s 50-metre butterfly (S7) in 32.99 and Hannah Ouellette of Saskatoon was tops in the S5 classification in 58.57. 

Charle Giammichele of Hamilton, Ont., was victorious in the men’s 50 fly (S7) in 33.88 and Sebastian Massabie of Surrey, B.C., was first in the S5 in 39.68.

In the women’s 100 butterfly, Jaime (Katie) Cosgriffe of Burlington, Ont., won the S10 class (1:06.75), Mary Jibb of Bracebridge, Ont., was tops in S9 (1:12.54), Angela Marina of Cambridge, Ont., won the S14 (1:10.08), Maxine Lavitt of Winnipeg took the S13 (1:12.51) and Emma Van Dyk of Port Colborne, Ont., was fastest in S14 (1:14.27). 

In the men’s race, Reid Maxwell of St. Albert, Alta., finished first in the S8 class in 1:06.34 and Fernando Lu of Burnaby, B.C., was the top S10 finisher in 59.35.

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