CBC Sports’ daily newsletter checks in on the International Swimming League, where some of Canada’s Olympic stars are competing after their success in Tokyo.
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Craving more swimming? The ISL can tide you over
Canadian swimmers enjoyed another successful Olympics in Tokyo, winning six medals for the second Summer Games in a row. And with many of them still on the young side, excitement is already building for the 2024 Olympics in Paris, which are less than three years away, and the 2022 world championships, which are in just eight months.
But you don’t have to wait that long for a swimming fix. Several Canadian Olympians are currently competing in the International Swimming League, which is midway into its third season. If you’re unfamiliar with the quirky independent circuit, here are some things to know:
The setup is different. Instead of representing their countries, like they would at the world championships, Olympics and other traditional meets, swimmers compete for teams containing multiple nationalities — just like in any other sports league. Something else the ISL shares with those leagues: teams compete in a regular season followed by playoffs and a final to determine a champion. Game presentation is also big in the ISL. The show is much more modern and flashy than what you saw at the Olympics. There’s elaborate lighting, a live DJ and the music keeps going during races. The only silence comes when swimmers settle into the starting blocks.
The races are different too. The ISL uses pools that are only 25 metres long — half the Olympic size. Every race features two swimmers from each of the four teams competing in that meet — filling out all eight lanes. There are no preliminary heats, so almost every race is a final. Times don’t matter as much: swimmers score points for their teams (and win prize money for themselves) based on what place they finish in. The distances are familiar: individual races go 50, 100, 200 or 400 metres, and the relays are 4×100. Maybe the quirkiest thing the ISL offers is the “skins” race. These start with eight swimmers, then the field is cut to four for the second round, then two for the final. See how an ISL race looks and sounds here.
Gender equality is a guiding principle. Teams have 12 men and 12 women in their starting lineups for each match. There are an equal number of men’s and women’s races, plus a mixed relay in each match. Prize money is equal for men and women.
The top swimmers make good money. According to SwimSwam’s calculations, American star Caeleb Dressel raked in nearly $292,000 US last season, which includes his $100,000 bonus for winning the season MVP award and another $65K for winning five match MVPs (in both cases, the MVP is determined by a points system based on where swimmers finish in their races). Eight swimmers topped $100K in earnings. No Canadians got rich, though. The highest earner, Kylie Masse, took home a little over $40K.
The team to watch for Canadians is the Toronto Titans. It’s the only club based in Canada, and the one with by far the most Canadian swimmers. They include Kylie Masse, the two-time 100m backstroke world champion who won a pair of individual silvers and a relay bronze at the Tokyo Olympics; Kayla Sanchez, who captured two relay medals in Tokyo; and Brent Hayden, the 37-year-old former world champ who came back from a seven-year retirement to qualify for the Olympics this year. Fifteen-year-old sensation Summer McIntosh, who barely missed the podium in the Olympic women’s 400m freestyle, is also a member of the Titans. She’s won three races this season — the women’s 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley in the opening match last month, and last week’s 400 freestyle, in which she broke the Canadian record. But McIntosh announced yesterday that she’s leaving the team for the rest of the season because school has started back home in Toronto. She’s in Grade 10. Canada’s two other biggest swimming stars aren’t involved in the ISL. Seven-time Olympic medallist Penny Oleksiak competed in the first season but has skipped the last two. Olympic 100m butterfly champion Maggie Mac Neil, who also won three medals in Tokyo, swims for the University of Michigan.
You can watch Masse, Sanchez and the rest of the Toronto team compete this week. The Titans are one of the four teams involved in the season’s seventh match, which is taking place in Italy on Thursday and Friday from 2-4 p.m. ET on both days. Watch live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.
WATCH | McIntosh wins 400m free at ISL event:
Toronto teen Summer McIntosh impresses with ISL 400m freestyle victory
15-year-old Summer McIntosh won the women’s 400-metre freestyle swim for the Toronto Titans at an International Swimming League event in Naples, Italy. 4:44
Simone Biles testified that the FBI and USA Gymnastics “failed” her and hundreds of other athletes by not stopping Larry Nassar from continuing to sexually abuse them. In tearful testimony today before a U.S. Senate judiciary committee, Biles and fellow Olympic gold medallists McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman blasted both organizations for not properly following up on their allegations against Nassar, who was eventually sentenced to essentially life in prison for molesting female gymnasts under his care. The hearing came after a U.S. Justice Department report ripped the FBI for botching its investigation, which allowed the abuse to continue for months. The FBI director apologized to the abused gymnasts today. “Not only did the FBI not report my abuse, but when they eventually documented my report 17 months later, they made entirely false claims about what I said,” Maroney said. Biles added: “It really feels like the FBI turned a blind eye to us.” Read more about the gymnasts’ testimony here.
Andre De Grasse won his last race of the year. The Diamond League track and field season ended last week with De Grasse finishing second in both the 100- and 200-metre events at the Finals in Zurich. But the Canadian star still had one more race to run before calling it a year — a 100m at a meet in Switzerland yesterday. The Olympic 100m bronze medallist went out in style, beating Americans Fred Kerley (the silver medallist in Tokyo) and Justin Gatlin (a former Olympic and world champ) in 10.06 seconds. De Grasse’s final tally for 2021: six individual victories in 100m or 200m events — including his first Olympic gold, in the 200 — and his second consecutive Olympic bronze medals in both the 100 and 4×100 in Tokyo, where he became the most decorated Canadian male Olympian of all time. Truly a career year. Plus…
De Grasse might be getting an upgrade. The bronze medal that he and his Canadian teammates won in the 4×100 in Tokyo could be converted to a silver after anti-doping officials announced yesterday that a member of the second-place British squad tested positive for a banned substance. That finding will be reviewed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which will decide whether Great Britain should be disqualified and forfeit its medal. Read more about the case here.
You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.