Competition taking notice of Canada's success in the pool ahead of world championships

The ripples of Canada's success at last month's national swim trials are reaching the shores of powerhouse pool nations such as the United States and Australia. 

Australia's Titmus disappointed her world record was beaten by Summer McIntosh

A woman looks back after competing in a swim race.
Australia's Ariarne Titmus was the previous world record-holder in the women's 400m freestyle before Canadian teen Summer McIntosh beat it at the Canadian trials in March. (Getty Images)

The ripples of Canada's success at last month's national swim trials are reaching the shores of powerhouse pool nations such as the United States and Australia. 

Teen sensation Summer McIntosh broke two world records and another five world junior records at the Pan Am Sports Centre to lead the way for Canada, and athletes and coaches afar are taking notice.

Australian swimmers are competing at their national championships this week, including Ariarne Titmus who had to watch the 16-year-old McIntosh break her 400-metre freestyle record.

"Initially, it sucks," Titmus told the Sydney Morning Herald. "You break a world record and you are naive in thinking it's going to stand for a while. World records are there to be broken. It means the world of swimming is moving forward."

Titmus swam in the same event earlier this week and was four seconds behind McIntosh's time of three minutes 56.08 seconds. Titmus told reporters she isn't too concerned about her time and that these championships are more about seeing where she's at in the midst of a heavy training period. 

WATCH | Summer McIntosh on breaking the 400m freestyle world record:

Live the moment poolside, when Summer McIntosh broke the 400m freestyle world record

6 months ago
Duration 2:00
Feel as though you are right next to Summer McIntosh as she breaks her first world record at 16 years old, at the Canadian national swimming trials.

But make no mistake, she and others are paying attention as Canada is setting benchmarks for swimmers around the world.

"What our athletes did at the trials was world-class," Swimming Canada high-performance director John Atkinson told CBC Sports. "There is pride. There's pride that this is a program that allows athletes and coaches to do what they need to do rather than getting in the way. That's one of the big things where we've improved. You always have to keep working on that and keep conversations ongoing."

And it's not just McIntosh posting jaw-dropping times. Maggie Mac Neil and Josh Liendo are coming off successful NCAA seasons. Kylie Masse has the most podium finishes on the team in World Aquatics competition. Penny Oleksiak, whose seven Olympic medals are the most by any Canadian, is still recovering from knee surgery but is also part of this star-studded group.

The depth and talent is perhaps unlike any other period in Canadian swimming, and while other countries are looking north to Canada's quick times in the pool, the reverse isn't happening.

Atkinson says the Canadian swimmers are not overly concerned about what other countries are doing right now. 

WATCH | Maggie Mac Neil rejuvenated after prioritizing mental health:

Canadian swimming star Maggie Mac Neil rejuvenated after prioritizing mental health

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2020 Olympic champion Maggie Mac Neil on finding balance outside of the pool, as she swims to a 100-metre butterfly victory at the 2023 Canadian Swimming Trials.

"The way I describe it is, whether you're Summer, Josh, Maggie, Kylie or whoever you might be, you do what you do and then you evaluate with your coach what you can do now to step forward again. That's liberating," he said. "You are working on what you need to do on your path and stick to your path."

Atkinson says it's human nature to compare times with the competition, but if you start to make decisions based on what other people are doing, it could mean trouble. 

"It's like when you're in an airport security line and you get to that point where you can either go left or right and you think which is going to go the quickest," Atkinson said. "And then you think well maybe I should have gone left. When you start to look and second guess other things, you can get constrained from it and stop focusing on what you're doing. You can't control where they are in their training and preparations."

WATCH | Summer and Brooke McIntosh: One family, two rising sports stars:

Summer and Brooke McIntosh: One family, two rising sports stars

6 months ago
Duration 8:20
Summer and Brooke McIntosh are making names for themselves as some of Canada's most promising young athletes. Devin Heroux shows the work the sisters are putting in to be at the top of their respective sports.

When asked specifically about what Titmus and the other Australian swimmers are doing this week at their championships, Atkinson didn't put too much emphasis on it. 

He said the real indication of how Canada stacks up will come in June when both Australia and the United States hold their trials to select their teams for the world championships in late July. 

"Meets that are happening around the world right now you can't really judge where they're at," Atkinson said. "Can they improve from June in a shorter period of time? That'll be the question."

A group of about 18 Canadian swimmers are heading to Spain in the middle of May for a couple of weeks of high-intensity training and competition. Others will be in their respective locations continuing their training as well. A team of 31 swimmers will represent Canada at the world championships, which run July 23-30 in Fukuoka, Japan.

Atkinson said they considered a national training camp in June but decided against it. They will hold a staging camp ahead of worlds in Toyota, Japan, leading into the competition. 

"We're allowing people to get on with what they need to do and sometimes we need to just get out of the way," he said. 

Last summer at the world championships in Budapest, Canadian swimmers won 11 medals, the most ever for the team at a world championships.


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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