Ready for Rio: Swimming, 16 facts

By Jillian Clarke | Oct. 23, 2014, 5 p.m. (ET)
Ian Silverman
U.S. Paralympian Ian Silverman won gold in the men's 400 meter freestyle (S10) at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and is hopeful to compete in Rio.

Dive into these 16 facts about one of the Paralympics' most popular sports: 

1. Paralympic history
Swimming was one of the eight original sports played at the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960. A total of 15 countries competed in swimming during its Paralympic debut, making it the most popular sport at the Rome 1960 Games.

2. Classification Prefixes
Paralympic swimming classifications are divided into three prefix areas. These areas include S for freestyle, butterfly and backstroke events; SM for individual medley; and SB for breaststroke.

3. Classifications
There are 14 classifications for Paralympic swimming. Classes S, SM and SB 1-10 are for athletes with varying loss of muscle power, trunk control, amputations and minimal impairments. Classes S, SM and SB 11-13 account for athletes with varying degrees of visual impairments and the S, SM and SB 14 class signifies athletes with intellectual impairments.

4. Take your mark
Athletes competing in Paralympic swimming are allowed to dive, sit on the platform or be in the water at the beginning of competition. The way an athlete starts is determined by the athlete’s classification.

5. London 2012
At the 2012 Paralympic Games, 74 countries competed in 148 medal events, which continued to prove that swimming is one of the largest sports in the Paralympic Games.

6. Most gold medals
Netherlands won 41 gold medals at the New York/Stoke Mandeville 1984 Games, which remains as the record for most gold medals won by a single country in one Games.

7. Bring the heats
Swimmers are seeded into different heats. Seedings are also used to determine the lane each athlete will swim in, with the higher seed being closer to the center lanes of the pool. The top eight swimmers from the heats progress to the final.

8. Top teams from London
At the 2012 Paralympic Games, China took home 24 gold, 13 silver and 21 bronze medals, putting China at the top of the medal standings for Paralympic swimming. Australia followed with 18 gold, 7 silver and 12 bronze medals. Ukraine came in third by winning 17 gold, 14 silver and 13 bronze medals.

9. Equipment
For fairness, visually impaired swimmers wear blackened goggles to take away all vision. Goggles are removed at the end of the race and checked by an official to ensure a fair competition.

10. Time to tap
During a flip-turn, some part of the swimmer’s body must touch the end wall of the pool. Visually impaired swimmers have someone—usually a coach—acting as a “tapper.” The tapper uses a long pole with a padded end to tap the swimmer on the head when he or she is close to the wall, indicating when the swimmer should turn or end the race.

11. Participants
Nearly 600 Paralympic athletes competed in swimming events during the London 2012 Paralympic Games, while Paralympic athletics had the most participants with more than 1,100.

12. Team USA in London
Team USA earned a total of 41 medals for swimming at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Of those medals, there were 14 gold, 13 silver and 14 bronze medals. There were 11 Team USA swimmers who were multi-medalists for swimming at the 2012 Paralympic Games.

13. Long for gold
Jessica Long brought home eight medals for swimming from the London 2012 Paralympic Games, including five gold, two silver and one bronze. A gold medalist in both the Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Games, she was the most decorated U.S. Paralympic swimmer at the London Games and is planning to make her mark in Rio.

14. About the pool
Paralympic swimming pools are the standard Olympic size, measuring 50 meters in length. Nine lanes make up a swimming pool, and the lanes are 2.5 meters in width.

15. Did you know?
Australia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Netherlands and Team USA have medaled in Paralympic swimming every year since 1960. Following the 2012 Paralympic Games, the U.S. has won 652 medals for Paralympic swimming, 253 of them gold. The next closest country is Great Britain with 634 medals, 201 of them being gold.

16. Where to watch in 2016
Olympic swimming and water polo and Paralympic swimming will take place in Rio Olympic Park at the new Olympic Aquatics Stadium. The stadium will have 18,000 seats for spectators and will be part of Brazil’s Olympic Training Center following the Games.

To learn more about Paralympic swimming, click here. U.S. Paralympics is the National Governing Body for Paralympic swimming in the United States.