An introduction to swimming at the Paralympics

About the Sport

Swimming was one of the original sports when Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s Stoke Mandeville Games became the first modern Paralympic Games at Rome in 1960.

While the Games were originally only open to athletes with spinal injuries, it has gradually become more inclusive and swimming at the Paralympics now includes 14 classifications of disability.

There are ten classifications of physical impairment with S1 the most severe and S10 the least severe. There are also three classifications of visual impairment and S14 for swimmers with learning difficulty.

  • Click here to find out more about the para-swimming classifications.

Swimming at the Paralympics – races and points

Swimming at the Paralympics takes a very similar format to swimming at the Olympics in that races are contested in a 50m pool over freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and individual medley.

With 14 different classes, the number of events for each class is reduced and race distances can range from 50m to 400m (although only Freestyle races are held at this distance).

Click play on the video below to view the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) introduction to swimming at the Paralympics.

Relay races are based on a points system whereby each swimmer carries a number of points, the same as their classification – so Ellie Simmonds, an S6 swimmer, would carry six points.

A common relay held at the Paralympic Games is the 34pt 4x100m Freestyle Relay where the total points of your four swimmers can be no more than 34.

Swimming at the Paralympics – British success

The British team have been at the forefront of swimming at the Paralympics, finishing in the top four of the medal table for six consecutive Games between 1988 and 2008.

In 2012, the British team won 39 medals (seven gold, 16 silver and 16 bronze) with English para-swimmers landing 37 of the 39.

The success of English para-swimmers such as Ellie Simmonds and Sascha Kindred has helped raise the profile of para-swimming and disability sport in England.

As a result, there is a thriving para-swimming pathway in England, with para-swimmers included alongside non-disabled swimmers at clubs and competitions.

There are also para-swimming competitions held specifically for para-swimmers in England – click here to find out more.