Swimming is an excellent sport for individuals who are blind or visually impaired. It has been practiced for many years by individuals of all ages, for competition, fitness, and fun.
Rules for competitive swimming at the international level are governed by two agencies: IBSA (International Blind Sports Federation) and the International Paralympic Committee. Details on both can be found further below on this page.
A FINA (Fédération International de Natation Amateur) standard eight-lane 50m pool is required for competition at the Paralympic Games. Events are conducted as heats for eight competitors per class and with the fastest eight swimmers per class competing in the finals. There are various forms for swimmers to start their race; in the water, a dive start sitting on the starting platform or the typical standing start.
During a Swimming event, swimmers who are blind are required to have an assistant to help him/her as he or she approaches the swimming pool end wall, either to make a turn or for the finish of the race. This process is called tapping and performed by a "tapper". These swimmers are also required to wear blackened goggles in all their events.
International Paralympic Committee: Since the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, Swimming has been one of the main sports of the Paralympics. As in the Olympic Games, competitors measure their skills in Freestyle, Backstroke, Butterfly, Breaststroke and Medley events. Athletes from more than 80 countries practice the sport, with male and female competitors having either a physical disability or vision impairment. Athletes are classified based on their functional ability. The governing body is the IPC through the International Paralympic Swimming Executive Committee, which incorporates the rules of the Fédération International de Natation Amateur (FINA).
The international swimming rules are followed with a few exceptions, such as optional platform or in-water starts for some races and the use of signals or '"tappers" for swimmers with a visual disability; however no prostheses or assistive devices are permitted.
IBSA classification: Swimmers compete in three sight classifications as defined by IBSA with B1 no sight at all, and B3 being up to 10 %. In B1 competition, swimmers must wear darkened goggles. A team coach directs the takeover for relays, as the swimmers may not be able to see their teammate approaching. Allowances are made in the rules for B1 swimmers who may be too close to a lane line to execute technically correct arm strokes or touches in butterfly or breaststroke.
International Paralympic Committee classification: Athletes with a visual impairment are classified into three classes, according to the degree of vision loss. S11 for athletes with no sight to class S13 for legally blind. The following events are offered at the Paralympic Games for these athletes:
50m, 100m and 400m Freestyle
200m Individual Medley
4x100m Freestyle Relay and 4x100m Medley Relay
Tapping: In the early 1980's, a technique was developed of letting the swimmer who is blind know that the end of the pool is coming. Dedication, experimentation, and hard work by Wilf and Audrey Strom resulted in the technique known as tapping.
A knowledgeable and experienced sighted sport guide acts as a tapper for B1 swimmers, and some B2 and B3 swimmers as well. These tappers are essential in enabling the blind swimmer to reach their optimum performance level. They make it possible for the blind or visually impaired swimmer to test his/her limits and are an important part of both training and competition. Swim tappers must synchronize their tap with the swimmer's stroke movement and momentum - at exactly the right time to enable the swimmer who is blind to swim at top speed, without fear of crashing into the end of the pool, and to execute a racing turn without losing precious fractions of seconds in a race. A high level of trust is crucial. Tappers are positioned at each end of the pool and use a rod with a firm foam tip to touch or tap the swimmer at the correct moment.
For a detailed version of the International Blind Sports Association (IBSA) rules and regulations for swimming click here
For a detailed version of the International Paralympic Committee Rules and Regulations click here
Records / Landmarks
Click to view the world records in Blind Swimming
Click to view results from the 2004 IBSA World Youth Championships click here
The most decorated Paralympian in the history of the games with an outstanding 54 medals (41 gold, 9 silver and 4 bronze) to her credit, in addition to eight world records (50m back, 100m back, 200m back, 200m I.M., 400m I.M., 200m breast, 4x50 medley relay and 4x50m free relay). She is a four-time All-American and was awarded a full academic scholarship to the University of Nebraska. Zorn was an alternate to the 1980 Olympic team (missing a spot by 1/100th of a second) and was nominated as a candidate for Sports Illustrated Woman of the Year in 1988.
Click to read more about Trischa
International IBSA Swimming Sub-Committee
Jane D. Blaine
330 - 5055
BC V5R 6B2Canada
Phone: 1 604 325-8638
Fax: 1 604 325-1638