Preview: Para swimmers prepare to dive in to IWAS World Games


The world’s up-and-coming Para swimmers – as well as some Paralympic champions – are just weeks away from the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation (IWAS) World Games 2022, which gets under in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal on 25 November.

Swimming is one of three sports to be featured at the World Games, which is taking place for the first time since 2019, and includes athletics and powerlifting.

Competition gets underway on 26 November and runs for three days, concluding on 28 November.

Let’s take a look at some of the key names that will be competing. But don’t forget that the World Games are a notorious proving ground for future Paralympic champions and medallists – expect to see new faces emerge as athletes build towards Paris 2024.

Zulfiya Gabidullina, Kazakhstan

Gabidullina is a national hero in her home country having won Kazakhstan’s first ever Paralympic gold medal at Rio 2016 in the women’s 100m freestyle.

Competing in the women’s S4 events, Gabidullina is also a regular feature at the IWAS World Games. At the 2013 edition, she broke the 50m, 100m, and 200m freestyle world records and left with four golds and two silvers.

Involved in a car accident at the age of five, Gabidullina’s lifelong motto has been ‘only forward’. This attitude has taken her to three Paralympic Games so far, multiple World Championships medals and has propelled her to national fame.

Do not be surprised if the Kazakh swimmer lands on the podium more than once at Vila Real de Santo Antonio 2022.

Natalya Zvyagintseva, Kazakhstan

A world champion from 2015 in the women’s 50m backstroke, like her teammate Gabidullina, Zvyagintseva made her Paralympic debut at Rio 2016 and also competed at Tokyo 2020.

Despite not securing any medals from the S5 events at the Paralympics, Zvyagintseva remains one of Kazakhstan’s most promising prospects in swimming. She is also likely to make an impact at the IWAS World Games 2022.

Phuchit Aingchaiyaphum, Thailand

Thailand are sending a huge delegation of 69 athletes to Portugal as they prepare to host the next IWAS World Games in December 2023 in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Hoping to impress on their behalf is Paralympian Phucit Aingchaiyaphum who has been swimming internationally since 2017.

He made his World Championships debut in 2019 and swam at his first Paralympics at Tokyo 2020 where he raced in the men’s 100m and 200m freestyle S5.

In Portugal he has a jam-packed programme that includes the 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle, the 50m and 100m backstroke, 50m butterfly and 200m individual medley.

Matz Topkin, Estonia

Part of a team of six athletes overall from swimming, athletics and powerlifting, Topkin is following in the footsteps of some great Estonian IWAS World Games performances.

In 2013 Kardo Ploomipuu set a new men’s 50m backstroke S10 world record and is a serial medallist across editions.

Topkin himself made his Paralympic debut at Tokyo 2020 last year in the men’s 50m freestyle and 50m backstroke S4.

You can catch him in those two events as well as the 50m butterfly and 150m individual medley SM4 at Vila Real de Santo Antonio 2022.

Jurijs Semjonovs, Latvia

Another athlete to compete at the IWAS World Games having made their Paralympic debut last year is Jurijs Semjonovs.

Semjonovs previously experienced success on the international stage. He won a European title in the men’s 100m backstroke S8 and bronze in the 100m breaststroke SB7 in 2018.

He will get a shot at the podium in the men’s 50m, 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle, the 50m and 100m backstroke and the 50m butterfly at Vila Real de Santo Antonio 2022.

About the IWAS World Games

Designed to give aspiring Paralympians and emerging athletes their first taste of international competition, the Games have helped produce many of the world’s big name stars.

It is the formula of established athletes competing against the next generation that makes the IWAS World Games so unique and helped it to develop into one of the world’s largest sporting events for athletes with physical impairments.