12 SepSwimming at the Rio 2016 Paralympics

A brief look at Swimming Events at the Paralympics

Rio Paralympics Post Image

The Rio Olympic Games was a memorable one with Team GB beating its 2012 medals record. This year’s Paralympics, billed by one channel (somewhat patronisingly) as a multi-event competition for ‘superhumans’, aims to be another memorable one. So far, it is likely to be another success.

The Paralympic Games in its present day form were initiated in 1960. It has its roots in the International Wheelchair Games founded in 1948 by Dr. Ludwig Guttman, a Jewish-German practitioner at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire. Initially, you needed to be a war veteran to enter. By 1960, people with physical, visual, and learning disabilities could join in too. From 1976 onwards, Paralympians have used the same venues as the Olympic Summer Games.

The swimming event at the Paralympics has been part of the games since 1960. There are heats leading to finals. Historically, there has been Short Course (25m pool) and Long Course (50m pool) events. At this year’s games in Rio, all events are taking place in the 50m pool. The swimming events for male and female competitors are as follows:

  • Freestyle: 50, 100, 200, and 400 metres;
  • Backstroke: 100 and 200 metres;
  • Breaststroke: 50, 10, and 200 metres;
  • Butterfly: 50 and 100 metres;
  • Individual Medley: 150, 200, and 400 metres.

Freestyle swimming is self-explanatory: it’s a swimming style of your own choice. An Individual Medley is a combination of, for example, Breaststroke, Backstroke, and Butterfly.

Who’s Who in Rio 2016? This Year’s Paralympics Swimming Teams

The Republic of Ireland

Alibhe Kelly’s greatest strengths are in Backstroke (100m) and Freestyle (100m and 400m) swimming. James Scully is the main man for the 50, 100, and 200 metres Freestyle swimming. For Butterfly (50m), Breaststroke (100m), and Freestyle (50m, 100m, and 400m) swimming, Nicole Turner is the one to watch. She is the youngest member of Team Ireland. For the 100 metres Backstroke, Butterfly and Breaststroke competitions, this is Ellen Keane’s forte. She is also a competitor for the 200m Individual Medley.

Great Britain

The youngest member of the British Paralympics swimming team is Abby Kane. Hailed as one to watch is Ellie Simmonds who has an incredible record and won the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2008 (after the Beijing Paralympics). Oliver Hynd has followed in the footsteps of his fellow Paralympian swimmer, Sam Hynd and with the same success. Bethany Firth will once again prove her worth in the 200m Freestyle and 100m Breaststroke.


Since the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, the Paralympics has had three classifications. Shown in brackets are the classifications most relevant to the swimming events:

  • S1 to S10: physical disabilities (S10, SB9, and SM10);
  • S11 to S13: visual impairments (S11, S12, and S13);
  • S14: intellectual disabilities.

S1 to S10 is the largest classification. This focuses on competitors with:

  • Impaired Muscle Power;
  • Impaired passive range of movement;
  • Loss of limb or limb deficiency;
  • Leg-length difference;
  • Short stature;
  • Hypertonia;
  • Ataxia;
  • Athetosis.

Prior to the 1980s, classifications were based on ‘the medical model’ – the competitors’ impairment was a decisive factor. Sporting achievement is a major decisive factor which is consistent with modern-day thinking on people with disabilities.

Catching up with the Paralympics

The official Paralympics website has an in-depth look at the results with live feeds. There is comprehensive coverage on RTÉ’s website, its live streaming services (RTÉ Player and News Now), plus radio and television stations (Radio 1 and 2FM). There is also live updates on Channel Four.

Swim and Leisure, 12 September 2016.

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