The main reason why swimming is so popular is because of the physical and psychological advantages of being in the water. The sensations of well-being, glide and weightlessness, and its low impact, make this sport highly suitable for disabled people.

In 1960, paraswimming became an official Paralympic sport in itself, in the first Paralympic Games in Rome. It is aimed at people with a motor or sensory disability.

Want to know more about this fantastic sport? 

What are you waiting for? Let's dive into the world of competitive paraswimming!

1. Paraswimming: The Classification

In paraswimming competitions, the classification takes into account both the stroke type and the swimmer's physical or psychological potential.

Following a medical test, the athletes are divided into different categories, according to their handicap and functional capacities (similar to weight categories in certain sports).

Let's try to understand these categories a little better:

Stroke Categories

  • Category S: freestyle, butterfly and backstroke
  • Category SB: breaststroke
  • Category SM: individual medley

Functional Stroke Categories

  • Categories 1 to 4: swimmers with impairments relating to 3 or 4 limbs and the trunk
  • Category 5 to 6: swimmers with impairments relating to 2 limbs and the trunk / 2 full upper limbs
  • Category 7 to 8: swimmers with impairments relating to 2 lower limbs / a full upper limb
  • Category 9 to 10: swimmers with impairments relating to a full or partial lower limb / partial upper limb

For the motor disabilities above, category 1 is most severe, and category 10 least severe.

  • Category 11: blind swimmers
  • Category 12 to 13: visually impaired swimmers
  • Category 14: intellectually impaired swimmers
  • Category 15: Deaf and hearing impaired swimmers (This category is not present in the Paralympic Games, but exists in the Deaflympics). E.g.: a blind breaststroke swimmer will be in category: SB11

I know this is a lot of categories to remember at once, but it gives you an immediate idea of the complex work of the federations trying to categorise competitions in the fairest way possible.

Defining the categories is extremely difficult and requires great precision, to avoid repercussions for a competition or even a whole career.

2. Paraswimming Rules

In paraswimming competitions, the rules also set by the FINA (International Swimming Federation), and the main rules are very similar to those in “traditional” competitions.

However, although swimming techniques must respect the criteria set by the FINA, certain adaptations and modifications inherent to the swimmers' different disabilities are necessary.

For example, concerning the start, the swimmer can choose to start from the block, next to it, or directly in water. In the latter case, they can also be assisted by a person who holds them in place before they start. 

Blind or visually impaired swimmers are warned before each turn or relay handover, by an assistant who touches them with a padded pole.

As you can see, the FINA regulates paraswimming, but also gives a degree of freedom to the swimmers, so that  they can all compete in a fair way.

3. Paraswimming Races

Although some Paralympic disciplines sometimes diverge from the original sport, paraswimming has almost the same races as “traditional” swimming, with just one or two differences.
Paraswimmers can thus compete in the following races:

  • Butterfly: 50m, 100m
  • Backstroke: 50m, 100m
  • Breaststroke: 50m, 100m
  • Freestyle: 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m
  • 3 stroke medley: 150m
  • 4 stroke medley: 200m
  • Freestyle relays: 4 x 50m, 4 x 100m
  • Medley relays: 4 x 50m, 4 x 100m


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