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Paralympic superstar swimmers prepare to dive in at Rio 2016

2016-08-29 09:00:00 Rio 2016

Brazil's Daniel Dias holds seven world titles and 10 Paralympic gold medals (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)

One of the original sports at the inaugural Paralympic Games in Rome 1960, swimming is reaching at a high-water mark that will crest at Rio 2016.

"The talent in swimming has never been so high," said Great Britain's Ellie Simmonds, a two-time Paralympian and London 2012 gold medallist in her classification for the 200m individual medley and 400m freestyle, the latter being a title she first claimed at Beijing 2008, along with the 100m freestyle, when she was just 13 years old.

Simmonds, 21, will be one of several superstars to race at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio for 10 days of competition beginning on 8 September. Her first event on 12 September is the women's 200m individual medley, classification SM6 for athletes with short stature, in her case, as well as amputations of both arms or moderate coordination problems on one side of the body. In this race, Simmonds broke the world record twice in 2015, once on her way to her third world title. She is on the cusp of beating the three-minute mark.

Swimming heats and finals will take place on the same day, each day from 8 to 17 September. There are multiple races for the same distance and stroke but with with numerous distinct classifications. Heats begin in the morning and finals take place in the afternoon.

Right out of the gates on 8 September in the women's 100m backstroke, classification S14, Great Britain’s Paralympic champion Bethany Firth will defend her title, having missed the world championships due to injury. Expect incredible drama, as Firth will race world champion and Team GB team-mate Jessica-Jane Applegate.

Paralympic powerhouse Daniel Dias will give the home crowd plenty to cheer about on the opening day. The 10-time gold medallist from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games dives in for his first race, the men's 200m freestyle in the S5 classification on 8 September. He is the world record holder and two-time defending Paralympic champion in this race. With seven world titles in 2015, Dias looks set to be one of the major stars of Rio 2016.

Dias, 28, competes in the men's 50m butterfly on 10 September, followed the next day in the 100m breaststoke and the day after that in the 50m freestyle. The multi-medal threat takes a short break before returning on 16 September for the 50m backstroke, a race in which he has held the world title since 2010. If all goes to play, the Brazilian could nab his fifth gold on this day.

Also starting on the first day of competition, Belarusian swimmer Ihar Boki begins his quest to win gold across all five of his events, beginning his campaign with the men's 100m butterfly, a race in which he holds the Paralympic, world and European titles. Boki, 22, dominated his S13 class at London 2012, taking home five golds and a silver medal from his first Paralympic Games, while breaking four world records. In addition to his opening day race, Boke competes in four more events at Rio 2016: the 100m backstroke, plus the 50m, 100m and 400m freestyle.

Ihar Boki of Belarus will attempt to recapture his five London 2012 gold medals in Rio (Photo: Getty Images/Clive Rose)

In the men's 100m backstroke still on the first day of competition, a fan favourite takes the pool. In the S6 classification, China's remarkable 'armless swimmer' Tao Zheng will be remembered for his iconic performance at London 2012. Zheng broke the world record on his way to Paralympic gold, and his unforgettable celebration captured the world’s imagination. He is a double world champion and broke his own world record again in 2015.

In the afternoon on 9 Setpember, Rio 2016 debuts a new swimming event, the mixed 4x50m freestyle relay. At the 2015 world championships, Brazil claimed gold with Clodoaldo Silva, Joana Maria Silva, Esthefany Rodrigues and Dias.

On 9 September, Andre Brasil, the double Paralympic and quadruple world champion from Brazil, makes his hotly anticipated first appearance at Rio 2016 in a race that could see a one-two finish for the host nation. Brasil held a 10-year unbeaten record at major events in the men's 50m freestyle, classification S10 — known as the 'splash and dash' — but he was blown out of the water at this year's European championships when he lost to teammate Phelipe Rodrigues.

The next day, Brasil will try to improve on his silver medal from London 2012 in the 100m backstroke, but will face a challenge from Canada's Benoit Huot and Dutch world-record holder Olivier van der Voort. On 12 September, Brasil is in the pool again for the 100m butterfly, which saw him lose a close fight to Ukraine’s Denis Dubrov at the world championships. Brasil was out-touched by 0.24 seconds as Dubrov set a European record with the win. Finally, Brasil races his final and most successful event on 13 September. In the 100m frestyle, the double-Paralympic champion has topped the podium at every world championship since 2006 and will look to recapture his crown.

On 13 September, the women launch into one of the most exciting races of the Paralympic Games: the 400m freestyle, classification S6. Ukrainian world champion Yelyzaveta Mereshko beat Great Britain’s Paralympic title holder Simmonds at the 2015 world championships, marking the first time the Brit experienced defeat in this event since 2008. Simmonds then broke the world record in April, swiftly followed by Mereshko in May.

Paralympic swimming competition has saved one of the best races until last. In the men's 50m freestyle, classification S12 for visually impaired athletes, fans will have the chance to catch the world’s fastest Paralympian in action: Maksym Veraksa. The Ukrainian holds the world record of 22.99 seconds, set before he won gold at London 2012. Azerbaijani brothers Raman and Dzmitry Salei will attempt to catch Veraksa and may even push him to another world record.

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