Swimming one of the most popular Paralympic sports.
Evidence of people swimming for sport dates all the way back to Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Greek times, and it is now a hugely popular activity all over the world. With 600 swimmers competing in nearly 150 medal events across 10 days in the new Aquatics Centre, the Swimming competition at the Paralympic Games promises plenty of excitement.
Thursday 30 August – Saturday 8 September
Olympic Park – Aquatics Centre
Number of medal events
Number of competitors
600: 340 men and 260 women
Each country is limited to 34 men and 26 women, and to a maximum of three athletes in each individual event.
Swimmers are classified according to how their impairment affects their ability to perform each stroke.
1–10: athletes with physical impairments. Class 1 swimmers’ impairment has the greatest impact on their ability to perform strokes; class 10 swimmers’ has the least impact.
11–13: athletes with a visual impairment. Class 11 swimmers have little or no sight; class 13 swimmers have limited sight.
14: athletes with an intellectual impairment compete in class 14.
Breaststroke uses greater leg propulsion than any other stroke, therefore athletes with a physical impairment often have a different class for this event compared to Freestyle, Backstroke and Butterfly.
This is also taken into account when athletes compete in the Individual Medley. This is shown by a prefix:
S before the class represents Freestyle, Backstroke and Butterfly events.
SB before the class represents Breaststroke events.
SM before the class represents Individual Medley events.
Field of play
The swimming pool is 50m long, 25m wide and three metres deep. It is divided into 10 lanes, although only the centre eight lanes are used for the Games.
History of Swimming at the Paralympic Games
Swimming is one of the few sports to have featured at every Paralympic Games since Rome 1960, and remains one of the most popular sports on the Paralympic programme.
There are four strokes used in Paralympic competition: Freestyle (essentially, front crawl), Backstroke, Breaststroke and Butterfly. All four strokes feature in the Individual Medley and Medley Relay events. Swimmers also compete in Freestyle Relay.
Paralympic races in the pool are conducted over a variety of distances, from 50m (one length of the pool) up to 400m (eight lengths). The first athlete to touch the electronic finishing pad at the end of the pool in each race is the winner.
In all events other than the Backstroke, swimmers usually start with a dive from the starting podium. In Paralympic competition aided starts are allowed, such as from standing beside the podium, from a sitting position, in the water or having assistance with balance while on the podium. In no cases may this allow an unfair advantage.
When turning and finishing, some part of the swimmers body must touch the end wall of the pool.
Visually impaired swimmers wear blackened goggles to ensure that competition is fair. Goggles are removed at the end of the race and checked by an official. They each have someone acting as a ‘tapper’, who uses a pole to tap the swimmer when they approach the wall, indicating when they should turn or end the race.
For a complete set of rules, please refer to the website of International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming, governing body for the sport.
Races start with heats, the number of which depends on the number of swimmers in the event. Swimmers are seeded in advance and these seedings are used to determine the heat each swimmer starts in – the top seeds will be placed in different heats. Seedings are also used to determine the lane each athlete will swim in – the higher the seeding the closer to the centre lanes of the pool.
The top eight swimmers from the heats progress to the final. As in the heats, the swimmers’ seedings are used to decide which lane they are allocated.
Swimming events need many officials including timekeepers, start and finish judges, stroke judges and an overall chief referee who is in charge of the competition.
Keys to success
For all events getting a good start is paramount. Different events have different starts, either by diving in or starting in the water. Good stroke technique can make the difference between winning and losing, as will making fast turns and a good finish. The winning swimmers will have all parts of their race technique honed to perfection, including the changeovers in the relay events.
Breaking the rules
Whilst the start for all swimmers is crucial, a false start will result in disqualification. Judges will also be looking closely that stroke and turning techniques are legal and that in the relay events each swimmer touches the end of the pool before their teammate leaves the starting podium. Infringements of any kind are reported to the chief referee who will decide on any penalty to impose.
Medley – a combination event in which a swimmer or team swims separate legs of backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle.
Classification – provides a structure for competition, whereby athletes with disabilities are grouped in classes defined by the degree of function presented by the disability.
Tapper – a tapper may be required by a swimmer with a visual impairment to indicate that that they are approaching the end of the pool.
The best place to find out about Swimming is at your local pool. If you want to know more about clubs, facilities and coaching schemes in your area, check the websites for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Swimming and your own National Paralympic Committee.