The biggest Para swimming competition before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games is set to start on Sunday (16 May) in Madeira, Portugal.
The European Open Championships will see around 380 athletes from 47 nations in action at the Penteada Swimming Pools Complex from 16 to 22 May.
It will be the sixth edition of the Europeans and the second time it takes place in Madeira. The first, in 2016, featured impressive 28 world records in eight days.
One of the stars making a return to the Portuguese island is Belarus Paralympic legend Ihar Boki, who bagged six gold and one bronze medal five years ago.
“I’m feeling quite well. I have promising times, but I am not sure how I will do in Madeira. It’s the first I’m in a big event in a long time,” Boki said. “But my main task is to confirm my success from the last time I was competing here.”
The European Championships were set to take place last year but ended up postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year's competition retained the original name Madeira 2020.
World Para Swimming and the Madeira 2020 Local Organising Committee (LOC) have implemented a series of COVID-19 counter measures in accordance to local and national health authorities for the Euros, which will be closed for the public.
“This competition ‘bubble’ is fine for me. [Actually] I have more time to have rest in these conditions,” Boki said.
As in 2016, the Euros will be an Open event allowing teams from outside Europe to compete in search of their marks to qualify for Tokyo 2020 in August.
Another Paralympic hopeful in Madeira is refugee Para athlete Ibrahim Al-Hussein. The Syrian-born swimmer was the flag bearer of the first Paralympic team to take part in the Games at Rio 2016 and also competed at the last Europeans in Dublin, Ireland in 2018.
Hosts Portugal will be represented by eight athletes looking at improving the team performance from three years ago when they took five medals in Dublin.
The competition marked an international breakthrough for Susana Veiga, who won a silver medal in the women’s 50m freestyle S9 – a result she repeated a year later at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships.
“I am feeling very excited. I am really looking forward to improving on my best times and to enjoy this experience which is going to be a little bit different,” said Veiga, who still does not know how she will react when she jumps in the water to her first home race in the women’s 100m freestyle S9 on Wednesday.
“I am really emotional. I will have to wait for the day to see how I will react. It’s always a surprise for me.”
Pressure and motivation
Being the country's main medal hope comes with an additional pressure, but Veiga sees it as extra motivation.
“It’s normal to have a little bit of pressure but I think I will just be focused on doing my best time and not about the medals. I want to enjoy the experience,” added the 21-year-old.
“Being able to compete in this event is a huge motivation for Tokyo. We are going to see a lot of the same athletes competing in both Madeira and Tokyo. It’s good to see how our rivals are performing.”
Ihar Boki will be one of the stars in the pool on day one as he takes on the men’s 100m butterfly S13. Ukraine’s Yelyzaveta Mereshko, who won eight medals at Dublin 2018, is another one to watch competing in the women’s 100m backstroke S6.
Ukraine topped the medals table at Dublin 2018 with 106 (33 gold) ahead of Italy’s 72 (28 gold) and Great Britain’s 55 (20 gold).
The European Open Championships will be streamed live on World Para Swimming website and Facebook page with geo-block restrictions in Spain and the United Kingdom.
Live results will be available on the European Championships website.