Armless Chinese swimmer breaks own backstroke world record, wins 4 Paralympic gold medals

Most people can't even swim that fast.

Fiona Tan | September 03, 2021, 02:31 AM

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

Chinese swimmer, Zheng Tao, who is also known as the "armless swimmer", has excelled at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and he is not showing signs of slowing down.

His most recent awe-inspiring performances at the Games saw Zheng surpass his own 50m backstroke world record to emerge victorious with yet another gold medal.

Victory didn't come easy

But it was no easy victory.

When the Paralympians initially arrived at the pool for the men's 50m backstroke final S5, the commentators were heard saying that Zheng looked out of sorts earlier during the preliminaries.

Remarking on the Chinese Paralympian's form in the morning on Aug. 30, one commentator said Zheng "just couldn't get going" and was "struggling with his kicks".

Despite this, the commentator posed the question: "But in the final, can you ever discount Zheng Tao?"

In response, the other commentator chimed in and said: "He could surprise us and come out of nowhere and take this event – this is his event."

But she added that the armless swimmer had experienced difficulties with his set-up at the starting line, and he "couldn't get it quite right" before this final race.

As a result, Zheng could be seen paying special attention to his set-up before the backstroke final event.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Uses mouth to stay hold position at the wall

Since Zheng has no arms, he has to improvise to get into starting position in preparation to kick off the wall.

This involved using his mouth to bite down onto a cloth to hold him in ready position.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Other swimmers holding onto the ledge, or using a setup similar to Zheng's. Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Impressive start

Once the claxon sounded, Zheng bounded off the wall and dove deep into the water.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Zheng's launch off the wall propelled him well ahead of the other competitors as he remained submerged for a longer time.

Zheng's lead underwater. Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

When Zheng finally broke surface, he was way ahead of the pack, and was on course to beat his own world record timing.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Alternating between a fly kick and a backstroke kick while swimming backwards, Zheng maintained his lead over the rest, and even picked up speed.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

To ensure victory, Zheng had to touch the top of his head against the swimming pool's wall to secure the lap.

Once he did so, he completed the race with a time of 31.42 seconds to set a new world record.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Zheng effectively shaved off 1.06s off his previous world record.

Image screenshot from Paralympics Games/YouTube.

Zheng's incredible display reduced the commentator to a few words as he could only say: "What a swim."

Most swimmers would have taken "35s to 37s" to swim the same distance, the commentator added.

Another impressive feat was that Zheng swam without goggles on.

You can watch Zheng's magnificent display below:

Video from Paralympic Games/YouTube.

Won four gold medals and broke multiple records

This was not the armless swimmer's only impressive swim.

In an earlier race on Aug. 27, Zheng bagged his second gold medal in the men's 50m butterfly - S5 final.

He finished the race with a time of 30.62s, and set another new world record.

He then extended his gold medal-winning streak two days later in the men's 50m Freestyle - S5 on Sep. 1, and smashed a Paralympic record with his stellar performance in his final race.

Speaking to the media after the race, Zheng said: "I went all out with no regrets as this is my last race at Tokyo 2020. I think this was one of my best races ever."

A victorious Zheng celebrating his win. Image from Sports China/Facebook.

This was evidently Zheng's last race in the games, but by no means was it his least.

All in all, Zheng bagged a whopping four gold medals at the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Games, including his first 2020 Tokyo gold medal from the mixed 4x50m freestyle relay on Aug. 26.

About the "armless swimmer"

Born in Kunming on Dec. 25, 1990, the 30-year-old Zheng comes from humble beginnings.

At a young age, Zheng lost his arms in a freak electric shock accident.

It was only in 2004 when he was 14 years old did Zheng pick up swimming in his hometown.

He was subsequently scouted by his coach, who saw potential in the armless swimmer.

Six years later, Zheng made his international debut in 2010, when he represented China at the World Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands.

He went on to represent China on a global stage in 2012, at the London Paralympic Games, where he defeated his opponent with a shocking 1.08 seconds lead in the nail-biting men's 100m backstroke - S6 final to set a new world record.

Zheng's first performance in the Paralympics made waves and captured the hearts of many internationally, catapulting him to stardom.

He even earned a place amongst the top 10 personalities of Yunan in 2012.

Ever since his debut in 2010, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) said Zheng has been on an "upward curve".

Given the nature of the Paralympics, where extraordinary achievements are pulled off, the event is not short of amazing and inspirational stories that have been leaving spectators in awe, and Paralympians have been dubbed "Superhumans".

More superhumans:

Follow and listen to our podcast here

Top image from @nirajk1962/Twitter, by Ian MacNicol from Pintrest and International Paralympic  Committee website.