Doing small things right propelled McIntosh to two Swimming Canada awards
At 14, Summer McIntosh was the youngest member of the Canadian team competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, but she managed some veteran results.
Individually, McIntosh finished fourth in the 400-metre freestyle, lowering the Canadian record twice. She placed ninth in the 200-m freestyle and 11th in the 800-m free, setting a national age group record.
McIntosh also was part of the 4×200-m freestyle team that finished fourth in Canadian record time. Her opening-leg swim broke the Canadian age group record.
“The small goals I had led up to my big goals,” said McIntosh, who trains at the High Performance Centre – Ontario. “It was just as important to me to tick off those boxes to be able to reach my full potential in the overall season.
“I’m just so happy with last year’s accomplishments. What I did to get there, it’s all about the process.”
In recognizing her head-turning performance McIntosh has been named Swimming Canada’s Breakout Performer of the Year and the Junior Female Swimmer of the Year.
“It means a lot to me to win such a special award,” she said. “After the crazy year it’s been, it’s like the cherry on the top of all my accomplishments. I’m so grateful for it.”
The Tokyo Olympics were delayed a year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Safety protocols put in place for the Games prevented family and friends from attending and restricted athletes’ activities.
While the experience was “really unreal” it still created fond memories for McIntosh.
“Whether it was the really small things like walking to the dining hall every day or going in those little automated buses, or the big ones where I got to see some really fast swimmers on deck and meet them for the first time,” she said. “I’ll always hold those memories with me forever.”
As an encore to her Olympic debut, McIntosh earned her first individual medal at a major international senior event with a silver in the 400-m freestyle at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi. She also swam the opening leg of the gold-medal winning 4×200-m freestyle relay and was part of the 4×100-m medley relay that took silver.
“To see a bunch of fast swimmers again in a different kind of setting than the Olympics was a really cool experience,” she said. “To be able to step on the podium three times at a world championship meet was amazing, especially to do it alongside some of the people I train with every day.”
McIntosh benefits from training at the Ontario centre with a group of Olympic medal winners that includes Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse, Margaret Mac Neil and Sydney Pickrem.
“I’ve learned a lot from my coaches and my teammates about how to recover during meets, what to eat, or how much to sleep,” she said. “I have so many small and big things I’ve learned that I’ll carry with me through my swimming career.”
Being surrounded by a strong support system both in the pool and at home has helped McIntosh cope with the scrutiny success can bring.
“I just try to focus on myself and not focus on the attention I get from the accomplishments I’ve achieved,” she said.
“When it comes to my teammates, my coaches, my friends and my family, all of them really keep me grounded and happy. I’m just so grateful for that, to be surrounded by such amazing people.”
The Olympics were the first step on a journey for McIntosh. That road leads to this summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, then eventually the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Her experiences in Tokyo have given McIntosh a map she plans to follow on her trek.
“Last year my goal was to make the Olympic team but going into the Olympics I didn’t have any specific goals,” she said. “I think the best way for me to mentally get prepared for those big meets is not to set goals. Obviously, I want to perform well (but) for me if I were to set goals it could almost have been limiting in some ways.
“Going into this year, and the following year, I’ll just try to keep improving and just trust the process. Focus more on the process goals and step-by-step goals like working on my technique or working on my turns, stuff like that rather than big goals.”
As long as she keeps doing the small things right, McIntosh is confident success will follow.
“I think focusing on small goals is better than focusing on one big goal,” she said. “That’s what I try to focus on.”