The 2013 PyeongChang Special Olympics World Winter Games kicked off Tuesday amid cheers and palpable enthusiasm from a huge international crowd of athletes, sports fans and supporters at YongPyong Dome at the PyeongChang winter resort in Gangwon Province.
About 3,300 athletes and officials from 111 countries will compete in the eight-day athletic contest for the intellectually disabled.
International athletes will vie in eight Olympic-type winter competitions in the same PyeongChang venues as those to be used in the 2018 Winter Olympics ― PyeongChang Alpensia, YongPyong Resort and Gangneung Indoor Ice Rink.
The eight are alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, figure skating, short track speed skating, floor hockey and floorball.
The Special Olympics is an international event intended for the health and social involvment of people with intellectual disabilities. It was founded by the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s sister, in 1968.
The Special Olympics does not emphasize competition as much as the Olympics or Paralympics. Medal ceremonies will not be restricted to athletes in the top three. Fourth- to eighth-place finishers will be also decorated with ribbons, a commendation that recognizes their hard work in overcoming their disabilities.
The Special Games seeks to honor as many athletes as possible for their intrepid spirit, as suggested by the Special Olympics athletes’ oath: “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”
Organizers hope the Olympics will contribute to changing the public perception of intellectual disabilities. They want intellectually disabled people to be regarded as social contributors, not as beneficiaries.
Since its first competition in 1968, competitors have shown the world that intellectual disabilities do not have to cripple one’s spirit, quality of life or courage to accomplish tremendous athletic feats.
This year’s Special Olympics will host the first-ever Global Development Summit on Wednesday, which will address “Ending the Cycle of Poverty and Exclusion for People with Intellectual Disabilities.” Participants are to adopt the PyeongChang Declaration, which will document the rights of the intellectually disabled.
The Special Olympics continue through the week, concluding with the closing ceremony on Feb. 5.
By Philip Iglauer (firstname.lastname@example.org)