Paralympics 2012: Six swimmers to watch in London

London Aquatics Centre

2012 Paralympics

Date:
Wednesday, 29 August to Sunday 9 September
Coverage:
Extensive daily coverage across 5 live, 5 live sports extra and the BBC Sport website

Swimming will be the second-biggest event at the London Paralympic Games, with 600 athletes competing for 148 gold medals over 10 days in front of sell-out crowds at the Aquatics Centre.

So who will be the swimmers to look out for when competition starts on Thursday?

Kate Grey, who competed for Great Britain at the Beijing Paralympics and will be part of the 5 live team for the Games, picks out five Britons and one international star to watch in London.

HANNAH RUSSELL (Great Britain)

CATEGORY: S12

AGE: 16

HOME TOWN: Chertsey, Surrey

LIVES: Chertsey

EVENTS: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 100m backstroke, 100m butterfly

Hannah Russell

At only 16 years of age Hannah has taken the Paralympic swimming world by storm in the last year.

She had her first taste of international competition at last year's European Championships in Berlin and came away with a silver and bronze medal, which was a huge achievement for such a young swimmer.

Hannah trains in Guildford and lives nearby so she will be feeling the pressure to perform in front of her home crowd.

Although she may be young, she carries herself with great maturity and deals with the pressures of elite level sport with composure and confidence. She could be the surprise package for these Games as she has a great chance of collecting medals in the S12 category, especially in the 100m backstroke where which she is currently ranked number one in the world.

With her bubbly, outgoing character, I'm sure Hannah will capture the attention of aspiring athletes, particular those with a visual impairment like her. In recent years British disability swimming has lacked athletes in the visually-impaired categories, so she could be the start of a new generation to boost the British team.

JONATHAN FOX (Great Britain)

CATEGORY: S7

AGE: 20

HOME TOWN: St Stephen, Cornwall

LIVES: Manchester

EVENTS: 100m backstroke, 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle

Jonathan Fox

Jonathan is also known as 'Fearless Foxy' for his ruthless approach in attacking races from the start and taking down his competition without any fear.

Ever since he missed out on gold at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in the S7 100m backstroke, Jonathan has made it his mission to never lose again, and he has not disappointed. Over the past four years he has been one of the most consistent performers on the British team, smashing records left, right and centre and winning European and World titles

Considering all of his success, he still remains a cool, calm character and he will not be fazed by carrying the expectation of a nation.

Jonathan, who has cerebral palsy, is hungry to replace his silver in Beijing with a gold on the biggest stage of his career. Standing on the top of the podium will bring him enormous pride and, if we are lucky, his fearless and focused facade may crack and he may even manage a smile!

LOUISE WATKIN (Great Britain)

CATEGORY: S9 (born without a left hand)

AGE: 20

HOME TOWN: Stockholm, Sweden

LIVES: Leigh, Lancashire

EVENTS: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 200m individual medley

Louise Watkin

Louise has achieved a lot since making her major international debut five years ago and she could be classed as one of the more experienced swimmers on the GB team - but it is easy to forget she is only 20 years old.

Louise is a hugely talented swimmer, winning medals across all distances and strokes, and will be the one to watch towards the end of the Paralympic programme as her main individual events do not start until 5 September - day eight of the Games. This could be a disadvantage to some athletes, but not Louise who is very focused and will not be distracted from the goals and high expectations she will have set herself.

The big story of the Paralympics could be Louise beating one of the Paralympic greats, Natalie Du Toit, who has dominated the S9 category ever since she came onto the scene in 2004.

Louise, who was born without her left hand, beat Natalie in the 50m freestyle at the 2010 World Championships so it will definitely be a great head-to-head battle for the gold at the Paralympics. With the perfect combination of youth and experience, Louise is the ideal candidate for such a challenge - she may be a quieter member of the GB team but that's only because she is saving all her energy for the battles that take place in the pool.

MATT WALKER (Great Britain)

CATEGORY: S7

AGE: 34

HOME TOWN: Stockport

LIVES: Stockport

EVENTS: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 50m butterfly

Matt Walker

Matt has been the cornerstone of the British disability swimming team since he began his international career 15 years ago.

With his charismatic personality he has been a great ambassador for disability sport. He is always willing to share his experiences with the next generation and is often referred to as the grandad of the team, mainly thanks to his wise and caring anecdotes.

In the pool, Matt, who has cerebral palsy, has played a key role as a member of the 4x100m freestyle relay (34pts), which as a team has won gold at the past three Games. He has been a consistent podium achiever throughout his career without yet winning an individual Paralympic gold - but with his main rival David Roberts not competing in London this could be the Games that he reaches the top spot on the podium.

This year has been a tough one for Matt following the death of his father, Alan, a few months ago. Alan was Matt's biggest fan and also played a huge role in supporting the GB team over the years as the family and friends coordinator of the supporters group.

A gold for Matt in London would be one of the most celebrated and well deserved achievements within the British Paralympic team.

SUSIE RODGERS (Great Britain)

CATEGORY: S7

AGE: 29

HOME TOWN: Stockton-on-Tees

LIVES: London

EVENTS: 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 400m freestyle, 50m butterfly, 100m backstroke

Susie Rodgers

Susie marked her arrival on the scene in last year's European Championships in Berlin, where she came away with five gold medals.

Although she is one of the older members of the GB team and London will be her first Paralympics at the age of 29, Susie will not be fazed by her lack of experience on the world stage. She is very determined and has big aspirations of making the podium in a number of events, particularly in the freestyle.

Susie, who was born without a fully formed left arm and leg, first learned to swim when she lived in Egypt as a child, but never took part in competitive swimming as a youth.

It wasn't until London won the 2012 Games bid in 2005 that she was inspired to get back into swimming and make the GB Paralympic team. She is living proof that it is never to late to get back into sport and compete at the highest level.

Being a local athlete and training at Crystal Palace, Susie will have a huge home crowd advantage and will be keen to leave her mark on the world stage.

JESSICA LONG (United States)

CATEGORY: S8 (double leg amputee)

AGE: 20

HOME TOWN: Siberia

LIVES: Baltimore, Maryland

Jessica Long

The United States swimmer is often acknowledged as the Michael Phelps of Paralympic swimming for the range of events she competes in and the success she has achieved, and it is a tag she richly deserves.

At the 2004 Athens Paralympics a 12-year-old Jess, who was adopted from a Russian orphanage aged 13 months and had her legs amputated below the knee soon afterwards, won three gold medals. It was an amazing achievement and signalled the start of a stellar career.

In Beijing four years ago she won four gold medals, and she will hope to increase that number to five in London. She will present stiff competition for, among others, Britain's Heather Frederikson, and the rivalry between the pair has become very competitive in recent years.

Jess is very well respected and will be passing on her words of wisdom to the younger members of the US team, which is growing in numbers and talent at a very quick rate. They will be a huge threat to the GB medal count in London.