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The start of something extraordinary

The history of Para swimming

Where has Para swimming come from?

Since the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, swimming has been one of the main sports of the Paralympics. Like the Olympic Games, competitors race in a 50m long course pool across all four strokes (freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke) and medley events. The Paralympic Games take place directly after the Olympic Games every four years. 

Over recent years, the Paralympic Movement has brought about a change in mindset towards Para athletes. Many successful Para athletes are considered professionals and are seen as equals to able-bodied counterparts. 

In 1960, a maximum of three Para swimmers competed in each event and competition was limited to athletes with spinal cord injuries.

In 1980, Para swimmers with cerebral palsy competed for the first time at the Arnhem Paralympics in the Netherlands.

In 2019, swimming was one of only a handful of sports which includes athletes with an intellectual impairment at the Paralympic Games. Swimmers with a physical impairment of some sort also compete along with those with a vision impairment. Athletes are classified based on their functional ability to perform each stroke. 

In the last 20 years, the Paralympic Games has grown from just under 3,900 competitors at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games to 4,350 at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games - with participating countries growing by a third from 120 to 160 competing in 22 different sports. 

Globally swimming is governed by World Para Swimming, which incorporates the regulations of the International Swimming Federation (FINA) and has rules specific to Para swimmers added in. The FINA rules are followed with a few modifications, such as optional platform or in-water starts for some races and the use of signals or ‘tappers’ for swimmers with blindness/visual impairment; however, no prostheses or assistive devices are permitted.

As a sport we are extremely fortunate to have a rich history in the sport - boasting 42 Paralympians, including New Zealand's most decorated Paralympian Sophie Pascoe and New Zealand's youngest Paralympian Nikita Howarth. To find out who else has represented New Zealand in Para swimming at a Paralympic Games visit Paralympics New Zealand's website.


Useful links

Paralympics New Zealand


World Para Swimming