Between 21 (Sat) and 23 (Mon, national holiday) September, the Yokohama International Swimming Pool, which will host the Team GB’s Tokyo 2020 pre-Games preparation camp, will stage the 2019 Japan Para Swimming Championships, an event commemorating His Majesty The Emperor’s Accession to the Throne this year. Last year, some 41 competitors from eight countries around the world joined Japanese swimmers in a championship that is gaining more and more attention as an international competition. Thus, with the 2020 pre-Games camp getting closer, it is time to put the spotlight on the championships as a taster of what will come in the Paralympics, and, likewise, introduce some of the top GB swimmers who are expected to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Basic Knowledge for More Enjoyment of the Japan Para Swimming Championships
The Japan Para Swimming Championships is the pinnacle event for domestic para swimming. It has been running since 1991 as a competition to ready top competitors for the Paralympics and World Championships. The records set at the championships are officially recognized internationally, one of the few events thus recognized in Japan. Apart from the Japanese swimmers, the 2018 championships attracted 41 swimmers from GB, USA, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, truly making it an international event.
The Championships basically abide by FINA rules, with FINA rules also applying to pool regulations and stroke types (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly), while gender-specific swimmers are classed by impairment types/severities to compete in an order that has competitors of approximately the same ability competing against each other.
Impairment types are prefixed with a letter (“S,” “SB” or “SM”) and numbered to indicate sport class, with physical impairments ranging from 1 to 10, visual disabilities from 11 to 13, intellectual disability at 14 and hearing disability at 15 (there are also classes for swimmers with lesser impairments), with numbers increasing from low ones for severe activity limitation to high ones for lesser activity limitation. Moreover, the race strokes are denoted with “S” for freestyle, backstroke and butterfly, “SB” for breaststroke and “SM” for individual medley – for example, “SB1” stands for the class for the most severe activity limitation of physically impaired swimmers.
Still further, as much as possible, the championships are managed in accordance with general swimming competition rules, with special rules also employed in unavoidable situations due to the nature of a swimmer’s activity limitation. For example, for swimmers who find it difficult to use starting blocks, an in-water start is permitted, while tapping poles can be used by coaches to let visually impaired swimmers know that they are about to reach the pool wall for a turn or to finish a race.
These classifications and rules are the same as those for Tokyo 2020 Paralympics Swimming, which means the Japan Para Swimming Championships is a great opportunity for seeing and learning about all aspects of para swimming before the Paralympics.
The appeal of seeing personalized strokes to master activity limitation
It is not only the classifications and rules to be learned at the Japan Para Swimming Championships, you can also enjoy the live atmosphere of para swimming races, discovering the effort, ingenuity and skill that swimmers adopt to overcome activity limitations in order to be competitive enough to win by split-second times.
The type of impairment and the severity vary, so the optimum swimming style varies with the swimmer. For example, a swimmer with only one leg and one arm and a hemiplegic swimmer are going to have completely different propulsion and floating issues, which will make swimming in a straight line complicated, so such swimmers go through a trial-and-error learning curve to find the best way to swim and swim quickly based on the general swimming style for the stroke they are competing in.
Hence, even in a race of the same stroke, the styles will be very personalized. Thus, watching para swimming as pure sport has great appeal because the spectator can wonder at the amount of practice and effort that has gone into mastering a stroke as well as wonder at why a particular style has been chosen. So, come and watch the “drama” behind the times recorded in para swimming.
GB para swimmer stars who could well be at Tokyo 2020
The swimming competition is one of the stellar events of the Paralympics, being an official event from the first Paralympics in Rome in 1960.
And, along with the USA, China and Ukraine, etc., Team GB is one of the strong Paralympics nations, picking up a total of 16 gold medals (Women: 10, Men: 6) at the Rio Paralympics 2016.
Now let us introduce you to some of the key swimmers with illustrious careers who are likely to be making a splash at Tokyo 2020.
● Bethany Firth
A GB female representative who picked up three golds (100m backstroke S14, 200m freestyle S14, 200m individual medley SM14) and one silver (100m breaststroke SB14) at the Rio Paralympics. Among these successes, Bethany notched up a new world record in the 100m backstroke S14, showing overwhelming domination in the class.
● Stephanie Millward
Born in 1981, this female GB para swimming legend is a veteran competitor, grabbing two golds (100m backstroke S8, 4 x 100m medley), one silver (200m individual medley SM8) and two bronzes (100m freestyle S8, 400m freestyle S8) at the Rio Paralympics.
● Toni Shaw
Although born in 2003 and just 16 years old, Toni won the 400m freestyle S9 at the 2018 European Championships, claiming the No. 1 ranking in the world at the time, marking this female swimmer out for greater things. And, at the Japan Para Swimming Championships last year, she blasted her way to a win in the 400m freestyle S9 race, leading the second-place swimmer by more than seven seconds.
● Reece Dunn
Already, in 2019, this 24-year old male swimmer has set two new world records (100m freestyle S14, 200m freestyle S14), showing that he really is on the rise. All eyes will be on him to see what kind of performance he turns in at the Japan Para Swimming Championships in preparation for Tokyo 2020.
The Japan Para Swimming Championships promises to be packed with top-class swimmers. And, although their places are not cemented for Tokyo 2020, if they are picked, you can be sure that they will be in the mix for gold!
Why not come and join us at the Japan Para Swimming Championships to support GB swimmers who are likely to be at Tokyo 2020!
GOGB column writer: Takashi Sugisaki