Getaway to Budapest? Canadian teenage swimmer Summer McIntosh ready to shine at World Aquatics Championships


Exactly a year ago, Canadian swimmers were preparing for the Olympic trials in Toronto, hoping to secure their ticket to Tokyo after a year’s delay. While many of the faces competing in these events were familiar, the emergence of some promising swimmers began to take shape.

At the Games, the Canadians excelled, winning six medals inside the Tokyo Aquatics Center, matching their performance in Rio. While Maggie Mac Neil, Penny Oleksiak and Kylie Masse drew attention to their efforts, Summer McIntosh – who was just 14 at the time – caused a stir. Just like 18-year-old Josh Liendo.

Fast forward to this month and there is noticeable excitement around Swimming Canada as 32 athletes prepare for eight days of competition at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary, starting Saturday (full coverage on CBC and Radio-Canada

The Canadian team includes 18 swimmers who have previously competed at long course world championships — Masse leads as FINA’s most decorated Canadian swimmer with 11 career medals so far, including at the small pool world.

Javier Acevedo, Eric Hedlin, Yuri Kisil, Sydney Pickrem, Taylor Ruck, Kayla Sanchez, Rebecca Smith, Mac Neil and Oleksiak have all won world championship medals in the past. Over the years, Canada has won 59 world championship medals, 11th among nations.

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Swimmer Maggie MacNeil made a name for herself last summer. Now she faces all the pressure by focusing more on her long-term goals and getting ready for the aquatic worlds.

But within the veteran squad is a mix of new talent, ready to make their debut on the world stage. Fourteen athletes will compete in their first world championships, including Olympians Katrina Bellio, Tessa Cieplucha, Ruslan Gaziev, Finlay Knox and McIntosh.

It’s the start of a very busy summer for Canadian swimmers, 22 of whom will also be competing at the Commonwealth Games July 28-August 28. 8 in Birmingham, England.

Here are some of the top Canadian stories to watch ahead of the world championships.

Coach change

Budapest marks the first international event without longtime manager Ben Titley, who was fired in early March. Titley has been a key member of Swimming Canada over the past decade, helping restore the program to medal contenders.

It’s now up to interim head coach Ryan Mallette to keep the momentum going, a task he believes he can accomplish.

“I feel like nothing is beyond my level of experience. I’ve had athlete medals at world championships and the Olympics. There’s nothing we’re trying to do that we haven’t,” Mallette told CBC Sports earlier this year. “I’m comfortable with what I need to do to get back to the top level.”

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summer of summer

Summer McIntosh has become a staple every time she steps into the pool. At national trials two months ago in Victoria, the Toronto teenager turned heads by winning four events and swimming the 400m freestyle with the third-fastest time this year.

In March, the 15-year-old swam the third-fastest time ever in the 400m individual medley (IM) in an invitational trials prep event.

Longtime CBC Sports swimming analyst Byron MacDonald says McIntosh has the potential to become a superstar in the sport.

“Summer is a once-in-a-generation swimmer. You don’t see that very often and they’re very special. And she’s going to get better and better,” MacDonald said in April.

McIntosh will compete in three individual events on her world championship debut in Budapest: the 400m freestyle, 200m butterfly and 400 individual medley.

Canada’s Joshua Liendo swims in the men’s 100m butterfly semi-final at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in Tokyo on Friday, July 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Josh Liendo is on a mission

Josh Liendo is about to break into the international scene. Since competing in Tokyo, he’s been doing everything he can to take his swimming to a different level.

Last December, at the World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi, Liendo won her first medals at a senior international event. He won individual bronze in the 50m and 100m freestyle events and was also part of the 4x50m mixed relay which won gold.

With those medals, 19-year-old Liendo of Markham, Ont., became the first Black Canadian swimmer to win a gold medal and the first to win an individual medal at a major international championship or Games.

Now he wants to make history by winning a medal at these world championships.

“I like to have a bit of swag. I like to do things my way,” he recently told CBC Sports. “And I like to have fun at the end of the day. Some of that swagger and confidence comes from having international experience now and knowing I have the ability to be great.”

Masses a consistency model

Kylie Masse goes about her business quietly and confidently and continues to win medals.

Masse is a model of consistency and her 11 medals make her FINA’s most decorated Canadian swimmer of all time. The back specialist also has four Olympic medals, including silver and bronze in the 100m and 200m events at the Tokyo Games, respectively.

At the last world championships in 2019, the 26-year-old swimmer from LaSalle, Ont., became the first Canadian swimmer to defend a world title by winning the women’s 100m backstroke in Gwangju, South Korea.

At the world championships five years ago in Budapest, the same venue for this year’s world championships, Masse set a world record in the women’s 100m backstroke and became the first Canadian woman world champion in swimming.

What will Oleksiak be doing at the world championships?

That’s the big question surrounding Penny Oleksiak’s entry into the worlds – what will Penny show?

The 22-year-old, despite all her Olympic success, has never won an individual medal at the world championships.

There’s no doubt that Canada’s most decorated Olympian, with seven medals, loves the big stage at the Olympics. But she’s not shy about downplaying other important encounters.

“For me, I like to call myself an Olympic swimmer. For me, it’s something so meaningful and special and I like to step up and prepare for it,” she told CBC Sports. “Any other year, I use those big competitions as a placement point to see where I am in the world at that time and make mistakes.”

In the wake of Rio following her resounding success, Oleksiak struggled with her sanity and all the expectations that came with being an Olympic champion now in the spotlight. She spoke openly about the ensuing darkness, including wondering if she still wanted to swim or not.

Oleksiak says she is now in a very healthy place – both mentally and physically – and has a better understanding of what she needs to be successful in and out of the pool.

Maggie MacNeil takes a break

Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil is absent from the individual events. In an exclusive interview with CBC Sports in April, Mac Neil revealed her mental health was struggling, feeling the anticipation of being an Olympic champion. She said she would not compete in any individual event at the world championship, including the 100m butterfly event in which she won gold at the Olympics.

“I always thought I was invincible. I was completely normal and fine in high school and college. But I think this year has been a little tougher for me,” Mac Neil said.

“I had some difficulties post-Olympics and it was really difficult. It was a very big challenge for me. I realize that everyone goes through difficulties and it’s normal to have these difficulties.”

The 22-year-old from London, Ont., has been outstanding over the past few years.

In Tokyo, she won a medal of all colors, including Olympic gold in the 100-meter butterfly, her specialty. She followed that up with four gold medals and a silver at the 2021 World Short Course Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi.

Although she won’t be competing in the individual events, Mac Neil will play a crucial role in Canada’s medal chances in the relay.

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