Belarusian swimming legend Ihar Boki is hoping to resume his winning return as the 2019 World Para Swimming World Series reaches its exciting climax in Berlin this week.
The multiple Paralympic, world and European champion won the 400m freestyle at the penultimate World Series event in Italy earlier this month, where he also collected silvers in the 50m and 100m butterfly and in the 100m backstroke.
The 24-year-old will be one of around 550 athletes arriving in Berlin from over 45 countries for the Internationale Deutsche Meisterschaften 2019 (IDM), the German national championships which have rounded out the World Series since 2017.
Four intense days of competition at the iconic Schwimm- und Sprunghalle im Europasportpark (SSE) will feature ambitious young swimmers competing alongside world-class athletes all pushing for a performance boost ahead of the World Championships in London this September.
A total of 24 world records were set at the IDM in 2018, including four by Boki, the event’s undisputed star.
The vision impaired swimmer went on to dominate the European Championships in Dublin last summer but was made to wait until the sixth leg of the current World Series in Italy for a return to the top step of an international podium.
In contrast, men’s 200m individual medley world champion Antoni Ponce will be aiming for a third straight World Series event win after his golds in Italy and Singapore. The Spaniard also won the men’s 100m breaststroke last time out.
A decorated field in the women’s 100m backstroke features Rio 2016 Paralympic Games silver medallist Nuria Marques Soto of Spain and Great Britain’s bronze medallist Alice Tai, who finished first and second over the distance in Lignano.
Another big name following the comeback trail in Berlin will be Britain’s Ellie Simmonds, who won women’s 400m gold in the fourth leg of the series in Glasgow having taken a year off to go travelling. The double Paralympic champion is now eyeing an 11th world championship gold medal in September.
The German challenge in Berlin will be led by the experienced duo of 30-year-old Verena Schott and Elena Krawzow, 25, who both clocked world-best times last year as the SSE pool lived up to its reputation as one of the fastest in the world.
Schott also looked strong in the women’s 200m individual medley in Italy earlier this month, finishing second behind the world and European champion Carlotta Gilli, who will be absent from the starting blocks this weekend.
Another Paralympic champion in action is Lorenzo Perez Escalona, Cuba’s only gold medallist to date in either Olympics or Paralympics. Other countries with their sole Rio gold medallist in action are Czech Republic (Arnost Petracek), Greece (Dimosthenis Michalentzakis), Hungary (Tamas Toth), Kazakhstan (Zulfiya Gabidullina) and Norway (Sarah Louise Rung).
The SSE crowd will also eagerly await the performances of the promising Bavarian teen Josia Topf, who set four German records at the 2018 IDM while still only 15 years old.
At the other end of the experience scale, 69-year-old German veteran Wolfgang Unger from the Baltic coast outpost of Stralsund will again be the oldest swimmer at the championships, competing in eight events.
All the action takes place from 6 to 9 June, with heats slated for the morning sessions and all finals raced in the evenings.