Saturday, February 24, 2024

Summer McIntosh and sister Brooke aim for global success: In swimming and figure skating

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Sisters Brooke and Summer McIntosh can recall doing one another’s sport as kids growing up in Canada.

They tried a plethora of sports, actually, including gymnastics and football, until Brooke settled on figure skating and Summer on swimming.

“I wasn’t a huge fan of the swimming, it just never clicked,” Brooke, now 18, told recently. “I remember I went to my first meet and I was so scared I didn’t want to do it.”

Summer, 16, had a separate issue with skating: “When I used to skate, I would never be able to remember my program because I would get too nervous before competing,” she said with a laugh.

But the McIntosh sisters have forged glittering paths in their respective sports over the last few years, as Summer became the youngest athlete on Team Canada at Tokyo 2020 before going on to win two individual World Championships gold medals this past year.

Brooke is on the rise as a pair figure skater, winning her first senior Grand Prix medal this season with partner Ben Mimar. They are the reigning World Junior bronze medallists.

Both sisters are in awe of what the other can produce under pressure. And both have big dreams to qualify for the coming Olympic Summer and Winter Games, respectively.

Brooke McIntosh and Ben Mimar, 2022 (©International Skating Union (ISU))

Brooke and Summer McIntosh: A sisterly support system

“In swimming, you don’t have to make anything look pretty,” pointed out Summer, the reigning 200m butterfly and 400m medley world champion in the pool.

“[Swimmers] can just grit it out, [but] in skating, you have to do all of that on top of looking pretty and having knives on your feet and being tossed in the air. I don’t understand how you can do that.”

It’s their mutual understanding, however, that has helped the sisters along in their paths as international athletes in two vastly different sports: They don’t often talk about specifics from their training day or go over their pre-competition plans, but having the other there to understand just what they’re going through is… priceless.

“We know each other well enough to know when we don’t want to talk about [training],” said Brooke. “If one of us comes home from a practice that wasn’t amazing, the other one probably knows you don’t want to talk about it. You just want to be distracted and go do something else, like the mall… yeah, usually it’s the mall.”

The sisters laugh together.

“We are in different sports, so not everything is the same,” added Summer. “But there are definitely still similarities that come with it, too. If we ever do want to talk about something or have a rough training day, we can understand where each other are coming from. That’s always nice to have that kind of a support system that truly understands what it is like to be a high-performance athlete.”

Brooke and Summer McIntosh: All in the family

Brooke and Summer’s mother, Jill Horstead, was an Olympian herself: She competed in swimming at Los Angeles 1984, racing in the 200m butterfly – the same event Summer is now a world champion in.

“I think from a very young age we understood what a big deal it is to make an Olympic team since our mom did it in 1984,” said Summer. “For me, to do it in the same sport was obviously very special. But I think just growing up really appreciating what sports has to offer and the opportunities that comes with it is something that’s really special. And our family has always had [that].”

Added Brooke: “[Our parents] always taught us [that] if you’re going to do something, do it. Don’t do it halfway through: It’s all the way or it’s really not worth doing. So I think that helped us a lot with our mentality towards both of our sports.”

In October, Summer made a move away from her family to amp up her training, setting out for Florida and joining the Sarasota Sharks swim club with coach Brent Arckey.

The sisters stay in touch on text messages (Who is the better texter? That’s something they couldn’t agree on… ) and via video calls, where sometimes they’ll leave their phones on while they do school work or watch a movie “together.”

Jill and her husband Greg McIntosh’s insistence of having the two young women try other sports as kids is an approach that Brooke thinks is paying off in the long run.

“[That] helped us learn a lot about body awareness, flexibility and the strengths and weaknesses [we have],” she said. “And I think it really helped us develop as a whole athlete, not just a skater and as a swimmer. I’m really grateful that our parents put us in all those sports and that we got to learn about [them]. Skating and swimming are completely different. So being able to do each one and appreciate each one, I think that’s helped us a lot.”

Canada’s golden girl Summer McIntosh: Why it’s all about work ethic

The McIntosh sisters: ‘We can learn a lot from each other’

For Summer, the success has come at lightning pace over the last couple of years. She was fourth in the 200m butterfly at Tokyo 2020 and is now considered the world’s best in that event.

The Olympic Summer Games Paris 2024 are just next year.

“Everything’s moved really quickly,” she said of her progression. “Every time I go to a major competition internationally, there’s so much to learn. Paris – if I make the team – is a nine-day meet, which is going to be very exhausting. Not just physically but also mentally – and that’s something that is probably the hardest thing to learn and manage.”

The sisters are thankful for each other, however, and Brooke – even as the older sister – has watched her younger sibling with an athlete’s eye, always open to the learnings she can glean, as well.

“I think we can learn a lot from each other,” she said. “Being able to learn from not only mine but also Summer’s experience… that’s really good.”

Brooke also has Olympic experience under her belt: She competed with a former partner at the Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020, finishing in fourth place.

What has Summer’s senior success taught Brooke? “Hard work: There’s nothing that can replace hard work. No amount of talent, anything. If you put in the hours, working in the right way, a smart way. That’s how you truly improve.”

Brooke would like to book a spot at Milano Cortina 2026, but for now is focused on the long game – and getting stronger internationally.

“I definitely think 2026 is in our sights,” she said. “It’s one of the long-term goals that we want to achieve. But to get there, we have to focus season by season.”

The Olympic dreams of two sisters – one swimming underwater, and the other skating on top of a frozen body of it.

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