After a year marked by grief and struggle, 14-year-old Canadian swimmer Summer McIntosh qualified for the 400m freestyle final after posting the fifth-fastest time in the preliminary heats Sunday.
The teen phenom finished behind American swimmer Katie Ledecky — who won the heat — with a scorching time of 4:02:72, breaking a Canadian national record in the event. McIntosh has been riding a hot streak over the past few months after a difficult year that included her longtime coach dying and her father being diagnosed with cancer.
“I’m still processing everything. It doesn’t feel real yet,” she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation days before her record-breaking race. “But it’s been great to see my hard work come to life and see that hard work always pays off.”
At the Canadian Olympic trials in June, she edged out four-time Olympic medallist Penny Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle. At the trials, she also won the 800m freestyle. In May she swam the fastest time for a 14-year-old in the 400m freestyle.
Despite her recent success, McIntosh’s road to the Olympics has been a difficult one. Her coach, Kevin Thorburn, died in April 2020, and in January, her father was diagnosed with cancer. McIntosh’s mother, Jill — a Canadian swimmer at the 1984 Olympics — discussed how the timing of Thorburn’s loss at the peak of the pandemic, made it “very difficult” for his swimmers to grieve over his death.
“I think they’re all still going through the grieving process and I think all of them are honoring him through their swimming,” she told the CBC.
Follow all the 2020 Olympics action
The young swimming star still speaks about her former coach often and according to Jill will “carry all his wisdom with her throughout her career.”
Summer’s father, Greg, added that he was incredibly proud of all his daughter has accomplished in the face of adversity.
“I’m really proud about how my kids handled [my diagnosis], taking it one day at a time and really focusing on what they can control and let the rest take its course,” he said.
Summer will next race in the 400m freestyle final and the 200m preliminary heats on Monday.