arena Swim of the Week: Summer McIntosh’s Mind-Boggling 4:29.12 400 IM

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Disclaimer: Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Swim of the Week is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.

In a truly jaw-dropping performance, 15-year-old Summer McIntosh became the third-fastest swimmer of all-time in the women’s 400 IM last week in Toronto, putting up a time, 4:29.12, that’s still hard to fully grasp seven days later.

McIntosh’s rise to the upper-echelon of the sport came fast and furious in 2021, as the Canadian native quickly ascended from national age group star to Olympic medal threat, ultimately finishing fourth in the 400 free at the Tokyo Games in a National Record time of 4:02.42.

But in that quick run-up to Tokyo, McIntosh’s focus was primarily on freestyle, also finishing 10th in the 200 free and 11th in the 800 free in her Olympic debut at just 14 years of age.

We saw a glimpse of her high-end versatility shortly thereafter when she made her International Swimming League (ISL) debut in Season 3, winning the 200 butterfly once and 400 IM twice while competing for the Toronto Titans.

So we knew that once McIntosh branched out her focus in the long course pool this year, she was going to be a global challenger in the 400 IM. We just didn’t know she would be this good, this quickly.

Contextualizing The 4:29

There have only been three performances faster than the time McIntosh clocked at the World Trials Prep meet in Toronto (so we’re presuming she didn’t even fully taper), and two of them obliterated the existing world record at the time.

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, 16-year-old Ye Shiwen had an incredible freestyle leg en route to a decisive gold medal victory in the event, putting up a time of 4:28.43 to lower the previous world record of 4:29.45, set by Australian Stephanie Rice at the 2008 Olympic Games.

That world record looked unbeatable during the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Games, but Hungarian Katinka Hosszu came into Rio with other ideas in mind, first nearing Ye’s world record in the 400 IM prelims (4:28.58) before smashing it by over two seconds in the final (4:26.36).

Those three swims are the only ones faster than McIntosh’s. In fact, McIntosh’s swim was just the second sub-4:30 swim not done at the Olympic Games, with the other being Hosszu’s 4:29.89 from the 2016 Golden Tour in Marseille, about five months before Rio.

McIntosh also became just the fifth woman ever under the 4:30 barrier, joining Hosszu, Ye, Rice and Kirsty Coventry. Among those four, Coventry is the only one who didn’t win Olympic gold in the event, having lost a nail-biter to Rice in Beijing when they became the first two under the elusive barrier.

All-Time Performances, Women’s 400 IM (LCM)

  1. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:26.36 – 2016 Olympic Games
  2. Ye Shiwen (CHN), 4:28.43 – 2012 Olympic Games
  3. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:28.58 – 2016 Olympic Games
  4. Summer McIntosh (CAN), 4:29.12 – 2022 CAN Meet Toronto
  5. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:29.33 – 2017 World Championships
  6. Stephanie Rice (AUS), 4:29.45 – 2008 Olympic Games
  7. Kirsty Coventry (ZIM) / Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:29.89 – 2008 Olympic Games / 2016 Golden Tour
  8. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:30.31 – 2009 World Championships
  9. Katinka Hosszu (HUN) / Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:30.39 – 2015 World Championships / 2019 World Championships

McIntosh, a product of Etobicoke Swimming who now trains at the High Performance Centre – Ontario in Toronto, also produced the fastest time since Hosszu’s world record swim in 2016, and the fastest by a long shot over the last few years.

In 2017, Hosszu won the World Championship title in 4:29.33. The fastest swim in 2018 was Yui Ohashi‘s 4:30.82, and then Hosszu won the 2019 world title (4:30.39) and Ohashi won 2021 Olympic gold (4:32.08).

Ohashi’s Olympic-winning swim was the fastest we had seen since the beginning of 2020 until McIntosh’s performance. Nearly three seconds faster.

Fastest Performances Since 2016 Olympics, Women’s 400 IM (LCM)

  1. Summer McIntosh (CAN), 4:29.12 – 2022 CAN Meet Toronto
  2. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:29.33 – 2017 World Championships
  3. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 4:30.39 – 2019 World Championships
  4. Yui Ohashi (JPN), 4:30.82 – 2018 Japanese Nationals
  5. Yui Ohashi (JPN), 4:31.42 – 2017 Japanese Nationals

All of this comes without recognizing the absolutely insane drop in time McIntosh experienced with the swim. She came in with a best time of 4:50.21, set in April 2019, and hadn’t raced the event since January 2020 (4:50.43) before going 4:37.83 in the prelims last week. Then came her finals swim of 4:29.12, marking a drop of over 21 seconds compared to where she was coming in. It also broke the Commonwealth, Canadian and World Junior records.

It begs the question: what can she do this summer?

The 2022 World Championships are quickly approaching in late June, and then we should also see her in action one month later at the Commonwealth Games.

The World Championship schedule has the women’s 400 IM on the last day, so it won’t conflict with McIntosh’s 400 free (they’re only one day apart at the Olympics), but fatigue could play a factor with the race being at the tail-end of an eight-day competition (something that probably hindered Hosszu’s chances of breaking the record in 2015 and 2017).

At the Commonwealth Games, the 400 IM is on Day 1 (with the 400 free on the sixth and final day), so if we were to see McIntosh make a push for the world record, it could be there.

All of this 400 IM talk comes without even acknowledging McIntosh broke a second Canadian and World Junior Record at the meet in the 200 fly, clocking 2:05.81 to move into a tie for 21st all-time in the event.

Whatever happens later this year and down the line, McIntosh’s current abilities are exciting, and the potential of what she could do in the coming years has the chance to be something special.

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Awsi Dooger
1 year ago

Hosszu is all over the place in that Top 10 list. But I was surprised at the absence of 2013 world championships, because I remembered she did very well there, bouncing back from a miserable 2011 and disappointing 2012 Olympic final. It turns out the 2013 time was just barely outside the list, two hundredths to be specific. She swam 4:30.41. Hosszu was age 26+ on all the listings from 2015 and later. I think Coventry 2008 is the only other entry at 21 or older.

1 year ago

Based on the prelim race in 400FR (3:01 first 300m) Summer McIntosh is close if not already capable to swim 3:59.
So same as with 400IM she is ~3sec away from the world record. But in contrast with IM record possibility there is some careful silence about possibility of world record by her in 400FR. Is it because in reality the 400FR is a tougher race than IM? Then why people dislike the 400IM to more degree than 400FR?

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Ledecky doesn’t need you to attack other female swimmers.

1 year ago

😀 😀
Name “Hosszu” was mentioned in the article 15 times.
And zero times she was called “Iron” or even “Lady”,
What’s going on? Has SS changed their heart. I hate when people do that.
😀 😀

Texas Tap Water
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Still attacking Hosszu?

I thought you already have new targets in Titmus and Mackintosh

1 year ago

Summer McIntosh wears braces. If she happens to break the 400 IM world record in the coming months, it should be automatically invalidated, as the metallic apparatus on her teeth gives her an aerodynamic advantage in the water (having braces is akin to wearing the Arena X-Glide in your mouth; it allows the water to slip on teeth more efficiently, saving valuable time).

1 year ago

I wish Summer McIntosh to break this 400IM record as soon as possible. I wish her to focus on this target this year. Who knows at what age her swimming potential will peak. For Ye it was 16 years old.
The two swimmers ahead of her (Ye Shiwen and Katinka Hosszu ) had their best swims under scandalous circumstances and I would like this new record to be absolutely clean beyond any doubts or questions.
I am not going to return to the discussions of all these circumstances related to these two records, it was said plenty already. But I would say that there was something extremely unusual about these two records. There is a fair argument that… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Last week you said summer wouldn’t do well due to her small stature. Do you read what you comment?

Reply to  Rap
1 year ago

First of all I was misled by Wiki and then been corrected at this chat about Summer’s stature. So my doubts about her potentials happened to have no grounds if Wiki is wrong about her.
And about if I read what I’m writing there is some old by nice joke from times when Soviet Union was existed.
There is an ancient artic people who live on the other side of Bering strait in Russia – Chukchi. They are the closest Asiatic relatives of the indigenous peoples of the Americas as well as of the Ainu people.
There were a lot of jokes about them related to their different cultural development.
Once one Chukchi came… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Why are you comparing me with Putin. There are plenty of Presidents around with “little insecure mind”. Do me a favor. Just once. Let me feel a proud member of huge army of such presidents. And you don’t have to run an exhausting research to find such ones. Just look around.
I have close relatives left back in Kharkiv and Dnipro. Some of them managed to escape the bombing and are in Budapest now as refugees. Some of them are still there and I have no information if they are alive. The building where I spent my best young years and where my kids were born is in ruin now and the grave of my parents doesn’t… Read more »

Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Sometimes I’m wondering what would you write about at this board if not me.
It looks that you are my most dedicated reader who isn’t missing any my posts. Thank you for that. Without critic there is no creative process. Keep going.

1 year ago

As usual, excellent article from James Sutherland. A comparison between McIntosh’s PB in SCM, i.e. the 4.26.44 swum in December 2021 with these splits every 50m: 28.02-32.37-34.00-33.23-38.29-39.50-31.43-29.60 and the 4.29.12 in LCM with these splits: 28.56-32.22-34.76-34.40-38.79-39.36-31.19-29.84 shows that the gap of 2,68 seconds is largely due to the backstroke leg (1,93 seconds), while there is a mere 0,39 seconds difference in the fly leg, a 0,36 seconds difference in the breaststroke leg and an absolutely identical split in the free leg. So, McIntosh is quickly learning the best way to swim the 400 IM also in the big pool, and are amazing her improvements in the breaststroke leg compared to her previous LCM PB swum in April 2019 (4.50.21) and,… Read more »

Last edited 1 year ago by nuotofan
Reply to  nuotofan
1 year ago

Also, younger swimmers with LC experience tend to be comparatively faster in LC because taking advantage of additional SC turns requires more strength.

Race Video
1 year ago

Race video?

1 year ago

the potential of what she could do in the coming years has the chance to be something special”

I´d argue she already did something special, but I agree

Stan Crump
Reply to  Nick
1 year ago

No kidding.

Reply to  Nick
1 year ago

That’s the scary part. She is just beginning. I am very excited to see her swim in the coming years.

About James Sutherland

James Sutherland

James swam five years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, specializing in the 200 free, back and IM. He finished up his collegiate swimming career in 2018, graduating with a bachelor's degree in economics. In 2019 he completed his graduate degree in sports journalism. Prior to going to Laurentian, James swam …

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