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Italian athletes won seven gold medals on the opening day of the European Para Swimming Championships. Twenty-five finals were contested in Madeira, with Russia’s Andrei Nikolaev the first European champion crowned in the men’s S8 400 metres freestyle.
The 2021 World Para Swimming European Championships are set to kick off on Sunday, May 16th. Like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the meet was postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While most of the start lists have not been released yet, some names to watch out for include 20-year-old Simone Barlaam who won gold medals in the 100m freestyle, 100 back, 100 fly and 50 freestyle at the World Para Swimming World Championships in 2019. He set new S9 World records in both the 100 and 50 freestyle that year at 18 years old.
Among the big names at this meet are Great Britain’s Rio 2016 medalists Abby Kane, Stephanie Millward, Ellie Robinson alongside Jessica-Jane Applegate and Tom Hamer who also won gold medals at the 2018 World Para Swimming European Championships in Dublin.
“After so many brilliant performances at our leg of the World Para Swimming World Series in Sheffield and with the Paralympics getting ever closer, these European Championships serve several important purposes for our athletes at this stage of the season,” British Para-Swimming National Performance Director Chris Furber said in a press release.
“For Tom and Jessica-Jane, their personal race programmes have been designed with this meet included as an opportunity to race under Covid restrictions and put to the test the hard work they have undergone in training…
“As with every competition in these circumstances, we are grateful for World Para Swimming, our fellow nations and the organisers for helping to put on this event in a COVID-safe way – and as this will be our first overseas competition for more than a year, this will be another big step forward for our programme at the moment.”
Applegate is at the top of the S14 200 free rankings.
More than 6 Para Swimming World Records fell at the World Para Swimming World Championships in 2019. 41-year-old Efrem Morelli of Italy (S3) is looking to defend his S3 World Record in the 50 breast and S13 World Record holder Ihar Boki of Belarus is set to swim the 100 fly. Two-time Paralympian Boki took home five gold medals at London 2012 and two in Rio in 2016.
At the 2019 Para Swimming World Championships, Great Britain’s Alice Tai undercut her own S8 100 back World Record in 2019 by .05 seconds and she was untouchable. She won the race with an 8 second lead over the field, however, Great Britain is only taking 8 swimmers to the meet and Tai is not one of them.
“Taking a small team to the open Europeans was a difficult decision, but the right one given the current restrictions in place and the limited training opportunities for a large part of our pathway athletes,” Furber said in the press release. “We also recognise the disappointment for a number of athletes within the pathway that will not have the opportunity to represent Great Britain at the Open European Championships.”
Russia’s Roman Zhdanov will be another name to watch this year as he took down an 11-year-old S4 World Record in the 200 free in 2019. Israel’s Mark Malyar looks to defend his S7 World Record in the men’s 400 free, also from 2019.
Italy ended the 2019 World Para Swimming World Championships atop the medals table with 20 gold medals to Great Britain’s 19 gold medals and Russia’s 18. The three countries finished as the top 3 teams with a total of 50, 47, and 54 medals, respectively.