Paris 2024: Introduction to Para swimming

Over 600 Para swimmers will compete across 141 medal events at the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. 03 Jun 2024
Image of female para swimmers at the beginning of a race
The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games will take place from 28 August to 8 September 2024.
ⒸLintao Zhang/Getty Images

Welcome to Week 15 of Paris 2024 Sport Weeks! This week, everything you need to know about Para swimming – the second largest sport at the Paralympics in terms of athlete participation.

Para swimming was one of the eight sports at the inaugural Paralympic Games in 1960. At Paris 2024, over 600 athletes will compete across 141 medal events at the Paris La Defense Arena.

Para swimming is the second largest sport at the Paralympics in terms of athlete participation. @Joel Marklund/ OIS


Brief history of Para swimming

Para swimming is practiced internationally by athletes in nearly 100 countries, making it one of the biggest and most attractive Para sports for spectators everywhere.  It is open to male and female athletes in all eligible impairment groups (Visual Impairment, Physical Impairment and Intellectual Impairment) who compete in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, individual medley and relay events.

At the inaugural Paralympic Games in Rome, 77 swimmers – all with spinal cord injuries - from 15 countries competed in 62 medal events.

The inaugural Paralympic Games featured 77 Para swimmers from 15 countries. @NPC Italy

Amputees and athletes with vision impairment were included for the first time in the Para swimming programme at Toronto 1976. This led to a rise in the number of medal events, with athletes competing for 146 gold medals compared to 56 at Heidelberg 1972.

Swimmers with cerebral palsy competed for the first time at the 1980 Paralympic Games in Arnhem, Netherlands, while swimmers with intellectual impairments competed for the first time at Sydney 2000.

Sixty-one years after the first-ever Paralympics in Rome, 604 athletes from 74 National Paralympic Committees took part at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. China finished atop the medals table with 19 gold, 19 silver and 18 bronze.

More than 600 athletes competed in 146 medal events at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. @Joel Marklund/ OIS

Ukraine’s Maksym Krypak (five gold, one silver, one bronze) and Italy’s Stefano Raimondi (one gold, four silver and two bronze) won the most medals at Tokyo 2020. US superstar Jessica Long was the only female Para swimmer to win six medals (three gold, two silver, one bronze) in the Japanese capital.


What to watch in Para swimming

Core strength, technique and immense determination are required to be the fastest in the pool.

At the Paralympics, athletes race in the Olympic-sized pool (10 lanes by 50 metres), but they compete in eight lanes instead of 10. Depending on the event and their impairment, athletes can start the race in many ways, including with a dive, in water, a grip or even holding a rope with their mouth.

Para swimmers can start a race in different ways, depending on the event and their impairment. @Joel Marklund/ OIS

Athletes are grouped into sport classes to minimise the impact of their impairment on their performance. Events with an ‘S’ prefix indicate freestyle, backstroke, or butterfly events. ‘SB’ events stand for backstroke and ‘SM’ for the individual medley.

There are 10 sport classes for athletes with physical impairment. No prostheses are allowed during competition.

Three sports classes are reserved for swimmers with vision impairments. Some athletes may need to wear blackout goggles and have an assistant called a ‘tapper’ who lets them know when they approach a turn or the end of the race.

Swimmers with a vision impairment have tappers who tell them when they approach a turn or the end of the race. @Thomas Lovelock/OIS

There is one sport class in Para Swimming reserved for athletes with intellectual impairment.


Memorable Paralympic moments

The USA is the most successful nation at the Paralympic Games, winning 724 medals including 283 golds. Great Britain follows with 707 medals and the Netherlands with 439.

US star Trischa Zorn picked up 55 medals between 1980 and 2004, making her the most decorated Paralympic swimmer of all-time.

Trischa Zorn is the most decorated Paralympic swimmer of all-time. @Scott Barbour/ALLSPORT

Natalie du Toit of South Africa made headlines by becoming the first amputee athlete to qualify for the Olympic Games. She competed in marathon swimming at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, several weeks before winning five gold medals in the Paralympic pool.

At Rio 2016, Ibrahim Al-Hussein made history by becoming the first refugee swimmer to compete at the Paralympic Games. He competed as part of the Independent Paralympic Athletes Team and raced in two events in the Brazilian city.

At Rio 2016, Ibrahim Al-Hussein became the first refugee Para swimmer to compete at the Paralympic Games. @Bruna Prado/ Getty Images

Daniel Dias also dazzled the home crowd at Rio, as he bagged nine medals.

At Tokyo 2020, Japanese swimming star Keiichi Kimura finally stood on the top of the podium at his fourth Games. After winning bronze at London 2012 and silver at Rio 2016, the home favourite touched the wall first in the men’s 100m backstroke SB11 for his first gold medal.

Local hero Keiichi Kimura won his first Paralympic gold medal at Tokyo 2020. @Alex Pantling/Getty Images

An impressive four golds each for Zheng Tao and Dong Lu led China to the top of the Para swimming medals table for the third Games in a row.


Paris 2024 programme

There will be 141 medal events at Paris 2024.

Find the list of all medal events here


Paris 2024 venue

Para swimmers from around the world will compete for medals at the Paris La Defense Arena in Nanterre.

The Paris La Defense Arena will stage Para swimming competition at Paris 2024. @Paris 2024

The arena is transforming into a pool for the first time when it hosts swimming at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The huge venue, with 13km of stands and 5,500 tonnes of framework, is home to rugby union side Racing 92. It also serves as a concert venue, where huge names like The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have performed.


Book your tickets for the Paralympic Games by visiting the Paris 2024 ticketing website.