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World record continues McIntosh's rapid rise into swimming stardom

TORONTO — It took a couple of splits before John Atkinson realized Summer McIntosh's 400-metre freestyle swim at the Canadian trials might be something special.
Summer McIntosh celebrates her world record time in the women's 400-metre freestyle event at the 2023 Canadian swimming trials in Toronto in this Tuesday, March 28, 2023 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Swimming Canada, Scott Grant *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO — It took a couple of splits before John Atkinson realized Summer McIntosh's 400-metre freestyle swim at the Canadian trials might be something special.

The 16-year-old from Toronto continued her rapid ascension into swimming stardom on Tuesday night when she set a world record in the distance with a time of three minutes 56.08 seconds.

"I was sitting in kind of my little area and the first 50 (metres) happens and you go, 'Oh, OK,'" Atkinson, Swimming Canada's high performance director and national coach, said on a Zoom call Wednesday.

"And then you turn at 56, and you go, 'Oh, right.' And then, when there was more 29 splits come in, I'm saying to somebody that's sitting with me, 'Where are the world record splits? Where are the world record splits? Come get those splits to me.'"

McIntosh's time eclipsed the record of 3:56.40 that was set last year by Australia's Ariarne Titmus, as well as her own Canadian record of 3:59.32.

"I really don't really focus on records that much, but obviously it's basically any athlete's dream to get a world record or achieve something like that," McIntosh said Wednesday. "So when it happened, I was just ... I think I still am in pretty much complete shock.

"It was just such an incredible moment to share with all the Canadians in the stands and a bunch of my family and friends that were on deck or also in the stands."

Atkinson said he felt the record was going to fall when McIntosh hit the 250-metre mark.

"It's like, 'This is happening,' you know? 'It's happening, it's happening now,'" he said.

"I kind of was standing up shaking my arms around and looking rather stupid at the end of it but I didn't mind."  

It was the first long-course world record by a Canadian since Kylie Masse in the 100 backstroke at the 2017 world championships in Budapest, and the first by a Canadian at trials since Amanda Reason’s 50 breaststroke mark (30.23) at the 2009 event in Montreal. 

McIntosh has enjoyed considerable success since first gaining national recognition with a fourth-place finish in the 400 freestyle as a 14-year-old at the Tokyo Olympics.

She won four medals (two gold, one silver, one bronze) at last year's world championships in Budapest; six medals (two gold, three silver, one bronze) at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England; and three medals (one gold, two silver) at the 2021 short-course championships in Abu Dhabi.

McIntosh is back in her hometown after recently relocating to Florida to train with the Sarasota Sharks under Brent Arckey.

"It's for sure a change from living in Toronto because this is my home and always will be," she said.

"But I think everyone supporting me and surrounding me has done an excellent job with me being able to handle it.

"I owe it all to my family and my friends, but especially my mom, my dad and my sister. They have done so much for me to be able to live in Florida full time, and I'm very grateful for that."

The Canadian swimming trials, which opened Tuesday, are being held to select athletes for the world championships and Pan American Games later this year. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.

The Canadian Press