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Official website of World Para Swimming

    About the sport

    Swimming was one of eight sports practiced at the first Paralympic Games in 1960 in Rome, Italy and is now one of the most popular.

    Both male and female competitors, who are classified on their functional ability to perform each stroke, test their skills in freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and medley events.

    Athletes can have a physical, visual or intellectual impairment. As a result the rules of the International Swimming Federation (FINA) are modified to include optional starting platforms and in-water starts for some athletes or the use of signals or “tappers” for those with visual impairments. No prostheses or assistive devices are permitted in the pool.

    Competition description

    A FINA standard eight-lane 50m pool is required for competition at the Paralympic Games. Events are conducted as heats for eight competitors per class and with the fastest eight swimmers per class competing in the finals. There are various forms for swimmers to start their race; in the water, a dive start sitting on the starting platform or the typical standing start.

    During a swimming event, swimmers who are blind are required to have an assistant to help him/her as he or she approaches the swimming pool end wall, either to make a turn or for the finish of the race. This process is called tapping and performed by a "tapper". These swimmers are also required to wear blackened goggles in all their events.

    Sports equipment

    The clothing for swimmers is a bathing suit. It is forbidden for athletes to use anything that may aid the swimmers speed, buoyancy or endurance. Swimming caps and protective eye-goggles are permitted. The goggles protect the swimmers' eyes as well as improving their vision in the water.


    Swimming has been part of the Paralympic programme since the first Games in Rome in 1960 and has seen the number of athletes and countries take part increase every four years since. The USA's Trischa Zorn is the sport's most decorated Paralympian having won 32 gold, 9 silver and 5 bronze medals between 1980 and 2004.

    At the London 2012 Games 604 swimmers from 74 countries competed in 148 medal events.

    World Championships are held every two years in addition to regional Championships. In July 2015, the Scottish city of Glasgow staged the IPC Swimming World Championships attracting over 580 athletes from nearly 70 countries who took part in 152 medal events.

    Para swimming is governed by World Para Swimming, formerly known as IPC Swimming.

    Growth of Swimming at the Paralympic Games
    Year Countries Medal events Male Female Total
    1960 15 62 45 32 77
    1964 13 63 65 33 98
    1968 24 68 161 103 264
    1972 33 56 169 110 279
    1976 34 145 260 103 363
    1980 36 191 293 148 441
    1984 43 347 349 192 541
    1988 44 257 344 160 504
    1992 56 163 295 192 487
    1996 50 168 274 183 457
    2000 62 170 356 220 576
    2004 61 167 330 229 559
    2008 62 141 323 224 547
    2012 74 148 344 260 604
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