Canada's youngest Olympian, just 14, ready to make a splash in Tokyo after tough year
TORONTO -- The family of Canada's youngest Olympian say the 14-year-old swimmer is ready to make a splash in Tokyo, despite a year of hardships that saw her coach die and her dad diagnosed with cancer.
Summer McIntosh started swimming competitively when she was eight years old and has since broken more than 50 Canadian age group records.
Now, Summer is in Tokyo ready to compete in her first Olympic Games while her family supports her from back home in Toronto.
Jill McIntosh, Summer's mother, says being the parent of a young athlete is stressful, but even more so when you have to cheer on that child from the other side of the globe.
"I think when we actually start watching it’ll be a lot harder and we’ll be cheering from abroad it’ll definitely be an Olympics unlike any other," Jill told CTV News Channel on Friday.
Jill is a former Olympian herself, having competed as a swimmer in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Despite both having competed at the Olympics, Jill said Summer's experience in Tokyo is going to be "unique" from hers given the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They're all about to wake up in a couple hours for the first day of racing for swimming. So I think the excitement is really starting to build," she said.
However, it hasn't been an easy road for the young swimmer.
Summer lost her long-time swim coach, Kevin Thorburn, who died in April 2020, and her father Greg McIntosh, was diagnosed with cancer this past January.
Jill said the sudden passing of Thorburn was "very difficult" for all of the swimmers, given that they weren't able to physically console one another due to the pandemic.
"I think they're all still going through the grieving process and I think all of them are honouring him through their swimming," Jill said.
However, she said Summer talks about him often and will "carry all his wisdom with her throughout her career."
Greg, who has finished cancer treatment, told CTV News Channel he is proud of Summer for making it to the Olympics despite how tough the past year has been for her.
"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," Greg said.
Summer defeated four-time Olympic medallist Penny Oleksiak to win the 200-metre freestyle race at the 2020 Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto in June, shocking her family.
Jill says the two athletes have been swimming together for years and are supportive teammates.
"Hopefully they'll continue to push each other to bigger and better things moving forward," she said.
Summer is set to swim the 200-, 400- and 800-metre freestyle races in Tokyo. She is also a member of Canada's women’s 4x200-metre freestyle relay team, which took home a bronze metal back in 2016.
Summer's older sister, Brooke McIntosh, hopes to follow in her sister and mother's footsteps and one day compete at the Winter Olympics for pairs figure skating.
But for now, she's happy to cheer on Summer.
Brooke says it is "incredible" and "almost unbelievable" to see her little sister on the Olympic stage.
"Even though she's younger than me, I look up to her all the time. I mean I see how hard she works every day and it's very inspiring," Brooke said.