Thursday, February 22, 2024

Editor’s note: This article is a part of our ‘’Origin Stories’’ series, focusing on the backstories of athletes and topics around the Summer Olympics.

Summer McIntosh even caught Billie Jean King’s attention.

On the evening of the women’s 400-meter freestyle final at the Toyota U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C., McIntosh, the Canadian swimming prodigy, stepped up to the starting block. Beside her was American swimming legend Katie Ledecky.

It was the first meeting between McIntosh and Ledecky since the 2023 World Aquatics Championships, a clash between two generations of swimmers. Ledecky, 26, is regarded as the greatest women’s swimmer of all time. McIntosh, 17, is a budding swimming sensation. Ledecky remains motivated to add to her accomplished career. The American has seven Olympic and 21 world championship gold medals. McIntosh’s career is only beginning.

The buzzer sounded and the swimmers dove into the pool. Ledecky took the early advantage off the blocks. But at the first turn, McIntosh was out in front. She never lost the lead. By the 300m mark, McIntosh was a full body length in front of Ledecky. As McIntosh powered her way through the final 50 meters, she touched the wall, setting a new championship record in the 400m freestyle.

  • McIntosh and Ledecky exchanged a brief congratulations before getting out of the pool.
  • This time, the Canadian had finished victorious.

Five days later, King — the tennis icon and gender equality champion — wrote a congratulatory note on social media to McIntosh.

History in the pool

“History was made in the pool this past weekend,” King said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Cheers to Summer McIntosh.””

McIntosh is already a four-time world champion and has set two world records in 2023. She’s charting a path toward greatness in swimming, just as Ledecky did as a teenager. Now, McIntosh’s expectations continue to soar with the Paris 2024 Olympics seven months away.

It’s 5:45 a.m. in Sarasota, Fla. This is McIntosh’s wake-up call for her Tuesday morning practice. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are McIntosh’s days when she swims twice. There are different wake-up calls. On Mondays, McIntosh gets up at 4:15 a.m. local time.

I’m a deep sleeper, so calming alarms will slowly wake me up and not scare me at 4:15,” McIntosh said.

McIntosh has breakfast before going to the Selby Aquatic Center, home of the Sarasota Sharks swim team that, for over 60 years, has developed swimmers for the state, national and international levels. Known as the “shark tank,” this is where McIntosh trains under coach Brent Arckey. On this early morning practice, McIntosh gets in the pool for a warmup before doing a set of freestyle workouts. Practice is from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Then she returns home for a nap before her afternoon training session.

The early wakeups and the intense training create a regimented schedule. As much as McIntosh embraces the preparation, she admits there are days when motivation isn’t up to her standard.

“Motivation isn’t something that you always have every single day,” McIntosh said. “It comes in waves. But I always have that discipline to no matter how I feel when I wake up, I get to the pool and I try my hardest. … I just keep pushing forward, and it’s those moments where you have to stay disciplined because you have to remember your long-term goals and then you have to implement your short-term goals for that day.”

This is how McIntosh prepares for Paris, and likely her next major showdown with Ledecky.

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