World Series return to Sheffield as 2021 season kicks off

Paralympic champion Hannah Russell joins 91 athletes from 21 countries and celebrates return to one of her favourite pools 07 Apr 2021
A woman with a red cap swimming backstroke in a pool
Great Britain's Rio 2016 Paralympic champion Hannah Russell makes her World Series return at Sheffield 2021
ⒸAtsushi Tomura/Getty Images for Tokyo 2020
By Mary Barber| For World Para Swimming

Sheffield, Great Britain will host the season-opener of the World Series 2021 with the Ponds Forge International Swimming Centre welcoming 92 athletes from 21 countries from Thursday to Sunday (8 to 11 April).

The World Series will be streamed live on the World Para Swimming website and Facebook page. The event will run with no spectators and COVID-19 protocols in place.

Sheffield last hosted the World Series in 2018 and among those hoping to be on the podium again is Great Britain’s Paralympic and world champion Hannah Russell.

“I am thankful and privileged to be given the opportunity to race [in Sheffield] at one of my favourite pools,” said the class S12 swimmer.

Russell has already competed twice this year. She won two mixed class events, 50m freestyle and 100m backstroke, at an international meet in Manchester in February and lowered her times at a second meet in the city last month.

Her success has boosted her confidence going into Sheffield and the Paralympic trials for Tokyo 2020. 

“Performing a season’s best time, and strong performances in Manchester, have provided me with belief and confidence ahead of the Paralympic trials,” she said.

“It was extremely disappointing the Paralympic Games were postponed, but I approached it with a positive mindset. An extra year of training has been beneficial for me, and a great opportunity to get stronger and further excel as an athlete and a person.”

Other British stars in the team include Alice Tai (S8) who is the reigning World Series champion. She also secured a record-breaking seven gold medals at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Allianz Championships.

The top titles have also been won by Stephanie Millward (S9), who at 39 is the oldest of the 41 British swimmers in the squad. World champions Tully Kearney (S5) and Reece Dunn (S14) are in the line-up, too. 

Star visitors

Israel and France have the next biggest teams: the visitors include countries from across Europe, Egypt, Japan, Iceland, Mexico, Russia and Uganda.

Current men’s 400m freestyle S7 world champion, Mark Malyar, will fly the flag for Israel alongside his twin brother Ariel (S4). 

Paralympic Champion Dimosthenis Michalentzakis is the big hope for Greece. The only Para swimmer from his country at the event will compete in the 50m freestyle S8. 

An Nishida (S7) is one of the five Japanese swimmers competing in Sheffield dreaming to win a medal for the host nation in Tokyo in August. Nishida will pit herself against some of the best in the world in the women’s 50m butterfly multiclass race. 

At just 14-year-old, Husnah Kukundakwe is Uganda’s only classified elite Para swimmer. She made her first appearance at London 2019 and will race in freestyle and breaststroke S9.

“We’re really looking forward to this year’s British Para Swimming International Meet in Sheffield and the start of the World Para Swimming World Series, after so long away from competition like this,” said Chris Furber, British Swimming’s National Performance Director.

“It will be great to see everyone racing again from Britain and around the world following the 12-month break. The meet is also a key opportunity for our athletes to gain a selection time for the Paralympic Games.” 

Furber confirmed COVID-19 protections would be in place for athletes and staff: “We will deliver the event in as safe a way as possible and follow all the necessary guidelines and protocols.”

The Sheffield 2021 World Series is organised by British Swimming and World Para Swimming. It is the first of five legs, with the next in Lewisville, USA and Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy next week.

At the end of a World Series’ season, the best female and best male swimmers’ awards are picked based on rankings. In 2019 Alice Tai and Spain’s Antoni Ponce claimed the women’s and men’s titles, respectively.

More than 1,300 athletes from 84 countries took part in the 2019 edition of the World Series.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only two series were held in 2020 in Melbourne, Australia and Berlin, Germany.

Complete results from the Sheffield 2021 World Series will be available here