2024 Olympics Previews: Summer McIntosh Aims To Continue Her Reign In Women’s 200 Fly

2024 PARIS SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES

By The Numbers — Women’s 200 Butterfly

    • World Record: 2:01.81 — Liu Zige, China (2009)
    • World Junior Record: 2:04.06 — Summer McIntosh, Canada (2023)
    • Olympic Record: 2:03.86 — Zhang Yufei, China (2021)
    • 2020 Olympic Champion: Zhang Yufei, China — 2:03.86

After it took 2:05.65 to medal at the Tokyo Games, it looked like we were set to see a full World Championships podium sub-2:06 for the first time in a decade in the women’s 200 fly. That did not end up happening in 2022 or 2023, but with the talent at the top of this event continuing to push into the 2:03-high, 2:04-low range, it looks like the Paris podium may get back under that 2:06 benchmark.

The Season of Summer

Summer McIntosh is just 17 years old, but she’s already built up an impressive resume in the 200 butterfly. Last summer, she became the first woman to repeat as the event’s world champion since Jessicah Schipper collected back-to-back wins in 2007 and 2009.

McIntosh broke the World Junior Record in both of her world title-winning swims: In 2022 she swam 2:05.20. She bettered that mark at the 2023 Canadian Trials (2:04.70), then dropped another .64 seconds in Fukuoka, winning in 2:04.06. After dropping over a second in a year’s time, she’s tied for 5th fastest performer in history and has her sights set on adding an Olympic gold to her impressive medal collection.

McIntosh showed she meant business this season at the Canadian Olympic Trials. Her performance there was highlighted by lowering her own 400 IM world record, but she also fired off the fastest 200 fly we’ve seen so far this season. She logged a 2:04.33, coming within a half-second of her lifetime best.

The Canadian phenom will face tough competition in all her events at this meet. The 200 fly isn’t as deep as heavyweight events like the 400 free and 200 IM, though she’ll still face a tough competitor in Regan Smith.

But McIntosh has shown that she’s more than up to the challenge that comes with tough competition. And perhaps more importantly at a high-pressure event like the Olympics where she has a busy schedule, she’s shown that she can rebound. Even after the disappointment of missing the 400 free medal podium to kick off the 2023 World Championships, McIntosh was able to bounce back to the tune of two individual gold medals (200 fly, 400 IM).

That experience is one that should give her confidence as she prepares for another head-to-head with Smith. And while Smith’s got the faster personal best, McIntosh also has the weight of her world titles to stack in her favor as both aim for their first Olympic gold in this event.

Regan Reloads

Smith walked away from Tokyo with a silver medal in this event, edging out her veteran countrymate, the since retired Hali Flickinger, with a 2:05.30. She’s continued to improve since those Games, and at the 2023 Sun Devil Open, she crushed the super-suited American record, swimming a 2:03.87. The swim stands as the 4th fastest in history and is just .01 seconds shy of Zhang Yufei’s gold medal performance from Tokyo (also the textile world record).

But even though she’s one of only two women in the field who have broken 2:04, Smith has struggled to match or improve her Tokyo silver medal on the World Championships stage. At the 2022 Worlds in Budapest, she was running second at the final turn but ran out of gas on the final 50, splitting 33.89 and falling off the podium (2:06.79).

Even after moving to train with Bob Bowman’s star-studded pro group and setting an American record in-season, Smith wasn’t able to mount a serious challenge for gold at the 2023 Worlds. However, she did make it back onto the podium, picking up bronze in 2:06.58.

She set the bar early in the year at the Westmont Pro Series, throwing down a 2:04.80, which stood as the fastest time this season until McIntosh’s Canadian Trials performance. At the U.S. Olympic Trials, Smith set off fireworks with a 100 backstroke world record but was much quieter in this event. She was the favorite by a wide margin and ultimately won the race in 2:05.70 after a 2:04.91 in the semifinals.

Smith’s got the second-fastest personal best in the field and has been almost two-tenths faster than McIntosh. But races aren’t won on paper. Smith is capable of not only challenging McIntosh but beating her for gold. She has to put it all together at the right time and avoid a 33-split on the final 50 meters.

A Battle for Bronze?

Like last year, Australia’s Elizabeth Dekkers arrives at the championship meet with the third fastest time in the world for the season. At the Australian Open in April, Dekkers reset her All-Comers record with a lifetime best 2:05.20, improving her position as the 3rd fastest Australian all-time.

Dekkers, 20, has had an impressive improvement trajectory of her own over the last two years. At the 2022 Worlds, she finished 5th in 2:07.01 before picking up gold at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. The next year, she swam a lifetime best 2:05.26 at the 2023 Australian Open. She was slightly off that time in Fukuoka, but put together an impressive swim nonetheless, moving from 5th at the 100 to silver at the final touch in 2:05.46.

Dekkers has a lifetime best over a second slower than both McIntosh and Smith. But last year’s performance showed that she’s a strong racer who can capitalize off an opportunity when it’s presented to her, even if she isn’t swimming a PB. So, while it may seem like Dekkers is the favorite for the bronze medal, that third step on the podium is far from her ceiling.

And what about the reigning Olympic champion, Zhang Yufei? She owns the fastest personal best in her Olympic record of 2:03.86. She pulled out of this race at the 2023 World Championships in prelims, a move that allowed her to focus on the mixed medley relay, which the Chinese squad did win.

The mixed medley relay doesn’t conflict with the 200 butterfly in Paris, so Zhang should be back in the field to defend her Olympic gold. But in the years since Tokyo, she’s also dealt with an elbow injury that caused her to pull out of the 2022 SC Worlds midway through the meet.

At competitions since, she’s been much more focused on the sprint events, but without the 50 butterfly at the Olympics, she could have refocused. In October 2023, she did break 2:06 for the first time since Tokyo, swimming a 2:05.65 World Cup record at the Budapest stop.

She hasn’t swum the event in 2024, so questions still remain about her form this year. Her 2:05.65 ranks her 4th in the world and is exactly what Flickinger went for bronze in Tokyo. But given the performances the trio ahead of her have put up already, it seems that it will take faster than that to get back on the podium.

Pushing The Pace

This season, we’ve seen two 2:04s and two 2:05s, courtesy of McIntosh, Smith, Dekkers, and Zhang. After them in the rankings, there are six swimmers who’ve been 2:06, five of whom will be in Paris.

This next group is led by American teenager Alex Shackell. The second U.S. roster spot was wide open behind Smith and Shackell grabbed the opportunity with both hands. In a year, Shackell has dropped 1.85 seconds in this event, going from 2:07.95 in June 2023 to 2:06.10 at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Of that drop, 1.03 seconds came in the last three months as Shackell dropped from the 2:07.13 PB she swam at Sectionals in March.

Abbey Connor with permission, Stephen Thomas
sharpfocuspics.com

The other swimmers who will be in Paris who have hit 2:06 this season are Abbey Connor (2:06.43), Airi Mitsui (2:06.54), Chen Luying (2:06.81), and Helena Rosendahl Bach (2:06.93).

Last year, a couple of months after seemingly retiring from competitive swimming, Connor showed up at the Australian World Trials and posted a lifetime best of 2:07.61, edging out Tokyo Olympic finalist Brianna Throssell for the second qualifying spot. At this year’s Olympic Trials, Connor did the same thing, again putting up a lifetime best in 2:06.43. Connor did not advance out of the semifinals at the 2023 Worlds, but her new personal best puts her in a much stronger position to fight for the final.

Mitsui, like Connor, logged a personal best at her Olympic Trials meet. At Japan’s Olympic Trials in March, Mitsui swam 2:06.54, improving from 2:06.77 at the 2023 Japanese Championships. Mitsui finished 5th at the 2023 Worlds and will be aiming for another finals appearance.

In December 2023, Chen made herself known by beating Zhang in this race by .02 seconds at the Chinese Championships (2:08.36). Chen blew past that time in April, swimming a 2:06.91 that ranks her 8th in the world this season. She gives the Chinese team another card to play in this race if Zhang isn’t on form.

The 2024 Worlds Podium

Many of the biggest names in this race skipped the 2024 World Championships, which gave some of the usual finalists (but not medallists) the chance to shine.

Great Britain’s Laura Stephens won the race after leading from start to finish. She posted a 2:07.35 for the win ahead of Bach and Lana Pudar. She followed up that performance with a 2:07.37 at the British Championships for 2nd place behind Keanna MacInnes (2:07.24). Stephens owns a personal best of 2:06.62 from the 2023 British Trials, which is her sole sub-2:07 outing.

Helena Rosendahl Bach (Photo by Patrick B. Kraemer / MAGICPBK)

After a 2:09 in prelims of the 2024 Worlds, Bach was remarkably consistent through the rounds in Doha. She swam 2:07.45 in the semifinals and then 2:07.44 in the final for the silver medal. Bach—who tied with Mitsui for 5th in 2023—has already bettered her Doha performance this season. At the Malmsten Open, she dropped a personal best of 2:06.93, breaking 2:07 for the first time.

After 6th place in 2022 and 4th place in 2023, teenager Lana Pudar earned a spot on the Worlds podium, taking bronze in 2:07.92—the first World Champs medal for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now 18, Pudar has been making national history since the Tokyo Games, when she became the first swimmer from her country to make an Olympic final.

Her lifetime best 2:06.26 from the 2023 European Junior Championships is fast enough to give her an outside shot at giving the country its first Olympic medal in swimming, but she’s got some work to do this season. She won bronze at the 2024 Worlds and silver at Euros (2:08.15)—again behind Bach—but she’ll need to be closer to her best in order to shake up the top of the depth chart in this event.

Boglarka Kapas earned bronze at Euros behind Bach and Pudar. She’s also been a consistent presence in the 200 fly final at the senior international level. Kapas finished 4th at the Tokyo Games and has since placed 7th in 2022, 13th in 2023, and 6th in 2024. She owns a season-best of 2:08.15 from the Hungarian Championships but has been as fast as 2:06.50, which she went at 2021 Euros.

The Verdict

The powers at the front of this race, particularly McIntosh and Smith, have swum away from the field in the last two years. With Dekkers distancing herself as well, and Zhang in the race, the frontrunners for the Paris podium are clear. But behind them, there’s a slew of 2:06 and 2:07 swimmers who will be duking it out for the final. Swimmers like Shackell, Mitsui, and Connor have already put up personal bests this season, giving them momentum heading into the Games. They’ll need to replicate their swims from their respective Trials to unseat names such as Pudar and Bach, who have consistently made the championship final.

SwimSwam’s Picks

Place Swimmer Nation Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Summer McIntosh Canada 2:04.33 2:04.06
2 Regan Smith United States 2:04.80 2:03.87
3 Elizabeth Dekkers Australia 2:05.20 2:05.20
4 Zhang Yufei China 2:05.77 2:03.86
5 Alex Shackell United States 2:06.10 2:06.10
6 Airi Mitsui Japan 2:06.54 2:06.54
7 Helena Rosendahl Bach Denmark 2:06.93 2:06.93
8 Lana Pudar Bosnia and Herzegovina 2:07.92 2:06.23

Dark Horse: Keanna MacInnes (Great Britain) — We mentioned Macinnes briefly above, but it’s worth talking about her further. Macinnes won this race at the British Trials, out-touching Stephens, the reigning world champion, by .13 seconds. Macinnes stopped the clock at 2:07.24, cutting .81 seconds off her personal best and resoundingly breaking the 2:08 mark for the first time. In the last quad, breaking 2:08 has safely earned a spot in the championship final, which puts Macinnes–ranked 11th in the world–a real chance at the final in her first Olympic Games. 

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zaj
9 days ago

My predictions
Women 200m butterfly
1. Gold – Zhang Yufei
2. Silver – Summer Mcintosh
3. Bronze – Regan Smith

Stingy
Reply to  zaj
8 days ago

I like this prediction

Oceanian
9 days ago

I have a strong feeling Lizzie will spoil at least one of the North American’s parties here.

Dan
10 days ago

Dekkers has a really nice backend to the race and it will be her only event. However, my money is still on SM

commonwombat
Reply to  Dan
10 days ago

She has, quite under the radar, developed more front end speed (now sub 58 100) but whilst I can see her below 2.05 (maybe even 2.04mid), I’m not seeing her winning this unless its a slower than expected race.

Dan
Reply to  commonwombat
9 days ago

See how things go. I would agree

commonwombat
10 days ago

Agree regarding composition of podium, exact placings may be open to recalibration.

Smith could, notionally IF she actually executes a perfect race, potentially gat past McIntosh for the gold but, to date, her best 200 swims have been domestic ones and unless McIntosh is having a bad meet I have to give her the nod.

Smith’s tendency to “fly then die” does leave her vulnerable to the “backenders” and Dekkers looms largest on that score.

Zhang is on the record as hating this event. Not sure she’ll swim it

Troyy
Reply to  commonwombat
10 days ago

Think Zhang only skipped 200 fly last year because it clashed with the mixed medley where China won gold.

commonwombat
Reply to  Troyy
10 days ago

Maybe, am also going off her comments during last year’s World Cups where she was describing it as a “horrible race”.

Ronnie O 'Sullivan
10 days ago

It is reasonable to say that there may be a gap between Zhang Yufei 200’s performance and Tokyo’s, unless Paris has a surprising performance, after all, with the growth of age, to focus on short distance events and relay

Peter
10 days ago

Isn’t Zhang a drug cheat. Why is she allowed to swim

Just Keep Swimming
Reply to  Peter
10 days ago

Would take 3 seconds to google this. Maybe try that?

Admin
Reply to  Just Keep Swimming
10 days ago

I think it was a rhetorical question designed to indicate that Peter doesn’t thing Zhang should be swimming.

Swimmer
Reply to  Peter
10 days ago

Your tears will be glorious when she wins gold in Paris 😉

Jason
10 days ago

No way McIntosh will take the gold for 200 fly, 400 IM is the only gold she will bring back to Canada.

Daniel
Reply to  Jason
10 days ago

Haha, how do arrive with this prediction ?

Just Keep Swimming
10 days ago

McIntosh
Dekkers
Zhang

phelpsfan
Reply to  Just Keep Swimming
10 days ago

Regan?

Troyy
Reply to  phelpsfan
10 days ago

DNF after bravely going out a second faster than the world record halfway split.

About Sophie Kaufman

Sophie Kaufman

Sophie grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, which means yes, she does root for the Bruins, but try not to hold that against her. At 9, she joined her local club team because her best friend convinced her it would be fun. Shoulder surgery ended her competitive swimming days long ago, …

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