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Para-swimming Worlds: GB hope to make impact and secure Tokyo spots

Ellie Simmonds

Para-swimming World Championships
Venue: London Aquatics Centre Dates: 9-15 September
Coverage: Daily reports across BBC Sport

With less than a year to go before the Tokyo Paralympics, this week’s Para-swimming World Championships in London are a huge event on the way to Japan.

Along with athletics, swimming is one of the big two sports at the Games.

Competition starts on Monday at the London Aquatics Centre, which staged such a memorable Games in 2012.

Great Britain has named a team of 24 athletes and BBC Sport looks at some of the stories to follow over the seven days of competition.

Disrupted build-up

London was only announced as the hosts of the championships in mid-April after Malaysia, which had been due to stage the event in July, was stripped of the hosting rights for refusing to let Israelis compete.

Malaysia, which is a majority Muslim country, banned the athletes because of what Kuala Lumpur sees as Israel’s poor treatment of Palestinians.

International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons said all world championships “must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination”.

In 2017, the Worlds had to be rescheduled just a week before it was due to start in September following an earthquake in Mexico.

When the event took place three months later, Great Britain, along with Australia and Canada, opted not to send a team.

It means this will be the biggest gathering of Para-swimmers since the Rio Paralympics, with a top-two slot in each race securing a spot for countries in Tokyo.

Russia are back

Russia was banned from Paralympic competition in 2016 after details of state-sponsored doping in the McLaren Report.

It meant Russian athletes missed the Rio Games, although some were able to compete at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang as neutral competitors.

In March, the IPC lifted the 29-month suspension, so Russians can participate in certain competitions up until 31 December 2022 – including the Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Paralympics – if they have met the specified testing requirements.

The Para-swimming World Championships will be the most high-profile event with Russian participation since the lifting of the ban and they will have a team of 52 competing in London.

Among those who top the rankings in their events are Andrei Kalina and Valeriia Shabalina, who both won gold four years ago in Glasgow.

Shabalina, who competes in the S14 category for athletes with learning disabilities, will be a threat to British trio Bethany Firth, Jessica-Jane Applegate and Louise Fiddes.

And having topped the medal table at Glasgow 2015, all eyes will be on how Russian swimmers are looking before Tokyo.

Valeriia Shabalina

Classification issues to the fore

As well as the absence of Russian athletes, the issue of classification is one which has become a major talking point.

New IPC rules require all Para-swimmers to go through international classification before the Tokyo Paralympics. The decision has affected all countries with the full impact only being seen now.

Great Britain’s Paralympic champion Oliver Hynd was moved to compete against less-impaired swimmers and failed to qualify for the Worlds, while team-mate Matt Wylie, who also won gold in Rio, retired after his classification was changed, saying the experience had “drained him”.

Brazil’s 14-time Paralympic medallist Andre Brasil, who had been in the S10 category for 15 years, was told he was no longer eligible for Paralympic competition.

In the women’s events, New Zealand star Sophie Pascoe was switched from the S10 category to the S9 events.

Pascoe, who won three golds and two silvers in her S10 events in Rio, is now a clear leader at the top of the rankings in her new category and will be a big favourite.

Andre Brasil

How will GB do?

The Great Britain team has the usual mix of Paralympic champions Ellie Simmonds, Mikey Jones and Bethany Firth looking to shine, along with rising stars Maisie Summers-Newton and Toni Shaw, who both impressed at last year’s Europeans in Dublin.

Alice Tai, another who has moved category from S10 in Rio to S8, will be a strong favourite to lead the GB medal haul.

GB finished third in the medal table behind Ukraine and Italy in Dublin, and they will challenge again along with USA, China, Australia and Russia.

Newcomers Brock Whiston and Reece Dunn will be hoping to make their mark in their first major internationals.

Whiston holds the world record in the SB8 100m breaststroke and will be favourite for gold on the final day of competition on Sunday, but on Saturday she also has a great chance in the 200m medley, going up against Jessica Long with the American star’s world record well within her grasp.

Dunn has become a real challenger to Commonwealth champion and Paralympic silver medallist Thomas Hamer, taking his world record earlier in the season and their 200m freestyle contest on Monday’s opening day is a race not to be missed.

Reece Dunn

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BBC Sport – Swimming

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