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McIntosh beats Ledecky in 800m freestyle, sets Canadian record

Summer McIntosh Summer McIntosh - The Canadian Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Toronto's Summer McIntosh defeated all-time great Katie Ledecky of the United States in the women's 800-metre freestyle and set a Canadian record in the process.

McIntosh, one of Canada's biggest medal hopes for this summer's Paris Olympics, swam in eight minutes 11.39 seconds to beat Ledecky by nearly six seconds at the Southern Zone South Sectional Championships meet Thursday.

The 17-year-old McIntosh shattered the previous Canadian record of 8:20.19 set by Toronto's Brittany MacLean at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships.

"SO PROUD to watch this record fall," MacLean wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "The fastest 800 freestyle in the world this year. Starting the petition to add it to her Olympic program this summer, who's with me?!"

Ledecky, the three-time defending Olympic champion in the event, came in second at 8:17.12 while American Brinkleigh Hansen was third with 8:47.57.

McIntosh is now the second-fastest woman in the 800 free after Ledecky, who has dominated the discipline for over a decade and set a world record of 8:04.79 at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Multiple media outlets reported Thursday's result was Ledecky's first loss in an 800m free final in more than 13 years.

The 26-year-old Ledecky entered the meet with the 29 fastest times in the event's history. That list was chopped to 16 as McIntosh set the 17th-fastest mark.

McIntosh broke onto the scene as Canada's youngest Olympian for the Tokyo 2021 Games at 14 years old, finishing fourth in the 400-metre freestyle.

She now holds six national records — including a world record in the 400-metre individual medley — and four world championship gold medals. None of her eight career medals at the worlds have come in the 800 free.

McIntosh had a banner year in 2023.

A couple weeks shy of her 17th birthday, she defended her world titles in the 200-metre butterfly and 400 IM in Fukuoka, Japan, to become a double world champion in back-to-back years.

After placing fourth in the 400-metre freestyle in Fukuoka in her first race — she was a silver medallist in 2022 — McIntosh rallied with a bronze in the 200 free before climbing to the top of the podium in her next two races.

McIntosh capped her four-medal meet swimming the freestyle anchor leg to help the women's medley relay team take bronze and qualify for this summer's Games.

The Canadian was the first swimmer in history to hold both the 400 IM and 400 freestyle world records at the same time, which McIntosh did for almost four months until Australia's Ariarne Titmus reclaimed the freestyle record in Fukuoka in July.

McIntosh put an exclamation mark on 2023 by ending Ledecky's 11-year run of 400-metre freestyle victories in American pools.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.