HISTORY OF PARA SWIMMING

Para swimming is practised internationally by athletes in nearly 100 countries and has featured in every edition of the Paralympic Games, growing into one of the biggest and most attractive sports.

At the first Rome 1960 Paralympic Games, 77 swimmers from 15 countries competed in the sport.

World Para Swimming, under the governance of the International Paralympic Committee, acts as the international federation for the sport and is based in Bonn, Germany. 

Para swimming is open to male and female athletes in all eligible impairment groups who compete in backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle, medley and relay events.

Competition opportunities include the Paralympic Games every four years, biennial World Championships and biennial or quadrennial regional Championships.  

The World Series, featuring a number of swim meetings around the world, was launched in 2017 to provide greater classification opportunities and top-level competition opportunities for athletes.

To further improve the skillset of those involved in the sport, several courses are held each year to improve the standards of national and international technical officials and classifiers.

World Para Swimming uses the same rules as its Olympic counterpart, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), with some modifications where needed. Further to ongoing contacts between World Para Swimming and FINA, there is a desire to explore opportunities for synergies in areas in which both organisations share common interests. 

Para swimming was one of eight sports that made up the sport programme at the first Paralympic Games. At Rome 1960, 77 swimmers – all with spinal cord injuries – from 15 countries competed in 62 medal events.  The maximum distance covered by swimmers was 50m and disciplines included backstroke, breaststroke, crawl and medley for swimmers with complete and incomplete spinal injuries.

Swimming has been part of the programme at every Paralympic Games


At the Tokyo 1964 Paralympics, competition took place in the nine-lane, 50m Tokyo Metropolitan Pool because the Olympic swimming venue had been converted into an ice-skating rink.  Many of the technical officials involved in the competition had also officiated the Olympic races week earlier.

Prior to the 1972 Paralympics in Heidelberg, Germany, the International Swimming Training Association for the Paralysed was founded, effectively acting as a Sport Technical Committee.

For the Toronto 1976 Paralympics, amputee and vision impaired athletes were included for the first time in the swimming programme. This led to a dramatic rise in the number of medal events, with athletes competing for 146 gold medals compared to 56 in Heidelberg.  

Cerebral Palsy athletes competed for the first time at the 1980 Paralympics in Arnhem, Netherlands, and USA’s Trischa Zorn was the star performer winning seven gold medals. 

In 1984 the Games were split between Stoke Mandeville, Great Britain, and New York, USA.  Wheelchair athletes competed in the Paralympic Movement’s birthplace while all other impairment groups, including Les Autres – a new addition to the Games– competed in the US.

The USA’s Trischa Zorn was again the swimmer to beat at the Seoul 1988 Paralympics winning 10 gold medals.

The Sydney 2000 Paralympics saw swimmers with an intellectual impairment compete in the Games for the first time.  

At the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, 604 swimmers from 74 countries competed in 146 medal events. 

GROWTH OF SWIMMING AT THE PARALYMPIC GAMES

Year Countries Medal events Male Female Total TOP 3 COUNTRIES
1960 15 62 45 32 77 1. ITA 2. GBR 3. NOR
1964 13 63 65 33 98 1. USA 2. AUS 3. GBR
1968 24 68 161 103 264 1. GBR 2. USA 3. NED
1972 33 56 169 110 279 1. NED 2. POL 3. RSA
1976 34 145 260 103 363 1. NED 2. ISR 3. USA
1980 36 191 293 148 441 1. POL 2. CAN 3. NED
1984 43 347 349 192 541 1. NED 2. USA 3. FRA
1988 44 257 344 160 504 1. USA 2. SWE 3. GBR
1992 56 163 295 192 487 1. USA 2. GBR 3. GER 
1996 50 168 274 183 457 1. GER 2. GBR 3. AUS
2000 62 170 356 220 576 1. CAN 2. ESP 3. GBR
2004 61 167 330 229 559 1. CHN 2. GBR 3. USA
2008 62 141 323 224 547 1. USA 2. CHN 3. UKR
2012 74 148 344 260 604 1. CHN 2. AUS 3. UKR
2016 79 152 329 264 593 1. CHN 2. UKR 3. GBR
2020 74 146 341 263 604 1. CHN 2. RPC 3. USA


OVERALL PARALYMPIC MEDALS TABLE

RANK COUNTRY GOLD SILVER BRONZE TOTAL
1 USA 283 215 226 724
2 Great Britain 225 255 227 707
3 Netherlands 185 138 116 439
4 Canada 164 124 122 410
5 Australia 136 160 157 453


 

Trischa Zorn is the most decorated female Para swimmer of all time


TOP 5 FEMALE PARALYMPIC MEDALLISTS

RANK ATHLETE YEARS COMPETING GOLD SILVER BRONZE TOTAL
1 Trischa Zorn (USA) 1980-2004 32 9 5 46
2 Beatrice Hess (FRA) 1984-2004 20 5 0 25
3 Jessica Long (USA) 2004-present 16 8 5 29
4 Mayumi Narita (JPN) 1996-2004 15 3 2 20
5 Erin Popovich (USA) 2000-2008 14 5 0 19


TOP 5 MALE PARALYMPIC MEDALLISTS

RANK ATHLETE YEARS COMPETING GOLD SILVER BRONZE TOTAL
1 Mike Kenny (GBR) 1976-1988 16 0 0 16
2 Ihar Boki (BLR) 2012-present 16 1 1 18
3 Daniel Dias (BRA) 2008-2020 14 7 6 27
4 Michael Edgson (CAN) 1984-1992 14 2 0 16
5 Mathew Cowdrey (AUS) 2004-2012 13 7 3 23


World Para Swimming’s vision is to enable Para athletes to showcase their abilities and fulfil their full potential at all levels from the grassroots through to the high-performance level.  

Its mission is to develop a long-term competition calendar which encourages and increases athlete participation, provides high levels of professional officiating and classification, fair competition, and boosts the profile of the sport and its athletes.

STRATEGIC PLAN