What to know for the International Swimming League playoffs

November 9, 2021
What to know for the International Swimming League playoffs
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The International Swimming League playoffs are here

The next major swim meet, the 2022 world championships, is six months away. But you can see some of your favourites from the Tokyo Olympics in action over the next few weeks in the International Swimming League playoffs.

If you’re unfamiliar, the ISL is a team-based professional swimming league with a non-traditional vibe. Instead of representing their countries, like they would at the world championships or Olympics, swimmers compete for teams containing multiple nationalities. Competitions feature elaborate lighting and a live DJ who plays music during races. The pools are 25 metres long — half the Olympic size. Gender equality is a guiding principle: teams must have 12 men and 12 women in their starting lineups, every match features an equal number of men’s and women’s races plus a mixed relay, and prize money is the same for men and women.

A few more key details: The ISL has 10 teams, but only four compete in each match. Every race features two swimmers from each team. 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. There are no preliminary heats, so almost every race is a final. The exception is the “skins” races, which are unique to the ISL. These start with eight swimmers, then the field is cut to four for the second round, then two for the final.

The only Canadian-based club, and the one with by far the most Canadian swimmers on its roster, is the Toronto Titans. They’re led by Kylie Masse, the two-time 100-metre backstroke world champion who won a pair of individual silvers and a relay bronze for Canada at the Tokyo Olympics. Masse is coming off a strong regular season in which she placed 14th in the ISL’s ranking system, which mixes women and men.

Toronto’s roster also includes 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, won three races for the Titans this season. But she left the team in September to start Grade 10 back home in Toronto.

Canada’s other two most prominent swimmers 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.

Notable non-Canadian swimmers in the ISL include American Caeleb Dressel, who won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, and Australia’s Emma McKeon, who racked up seven medals in Tokyo, including four gold. Dressel won the ISL’s MVP award last year and earned nearly $292,000 US in prize money and bonuses, according to SwimSwam’s calculations. A total of eight swimmers topped $100K in winnings. Masse was the highest-earning Canadian, making a little over $40K.

The Titans were among the eight teams who qualified for the playoffs, which start Thursday in the Netherlands. The first three weeks are essentially the semifinals, with the four teams who accumulate the most points advancing to the final on Dec. 3 and 4.

For the semifinals, matches will be held every Thursday through Sunday from 1-3 p.m. ET. The Titans’ first match takes place this Saturday and Sunday. You can stream every ISL playoff match live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

American star Caeleb Dressel is the reigning ISL MVP. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Quickly…

The Blue Jays have two of the three finalists for American League MVP, plus a Cy Young finalist. Again, how did this team miss the playoffs? Sluggers Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien were both shortlisted last night for the AL MVP honour, while left-hander Robbie Ray was named a finalist for the Cy Young. Ray is up against the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole and the White Sox’ Lance Lynn, while Guerrero and Semien will almost surely lose to two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani. He piled up 46 homers and 100 RBIs as the Angels’ designated hitter while also going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts as a pitcher. The award winners will be announced next week. Semien has already been awarded a Gold Glove for his work at second base this year. Both he and Ray are poised to land big contracts in free agency after putting up impressive numbers on one-year deals. Read more about the finalists for the major AL and NL awards here.

And finally…

Alex Ovechkin is off to one of the best starts ever by an old guy. Having already passed Marcel Dionne earlier this season to break into the top five on the NHL’s all-time goals list, Ovechkin scored his 741st last night to move into a tie for fourth place with Brett Hull. At the rate he’s going, it won’t be long before Ovechkin knocks off Jaromir Jagr (766). Through 12 games of his 17th (!) NHL season, he leads the league in goals (11) and shots on goal (60) and is third in points (21). Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe, Johnny Bucyk and Maurice Richard are the only other players aged 36 or older at the start of a season to reach the 20-point mark in 12 or fewer games. Lemieux remains the gold standard: he needed only nine games to do it in 2002-03, when he was 37.

Coming up on CBC Sports

Beach volleyball: Stream a men’s and women’s World Tour event in Brazil live Wednesday from 6 a.m. ET to 5 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

Rugby: Stream matches from the U Sports women’s rugby national championship in Kingston, Ont., live Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. ET and 7:30 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Read a full guide to the various U Sports national championships CBC Sports will be live-streaming in the coming weeks and months here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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