As the “Flame of Hope” was lit in the Planai Stadium in Schladming, Austria over the weekend, more than 2,600 athletes from 105 nations took the Special Olympics oath promising, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” The dramatic culmination marked the opening of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, the largest sporting event in the world in 2017.
The star-studded Opening Ceremony was broadcast live on ABC/ESPN around the world to 190 countries and featured performances by pop-folk-songsmith Jason Mraz and 13-year-old winner of America’s Got Talent Grace VanderWall, as well as European megastar Helene Fischer.
Highlights of the Opening Ceremony included the Parade of Athletes, a unified choir, the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run staged by a team of 105 skiers, and remarks by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, and Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy Shriver.
“It is my hope that after the Special Olympics World Winter Games, the spotlight does not dim, but continues to shine for those with intellectual disabilities, with you serving as a role model in your home countries,” said Austrian President Van der Bellen.
New Zealand has sent 13 athletes plus a team of management and coaches to Austria who will compete in Alpine skiing and snowboarding. The team departed New Zealand on 8 March and has spent the last 10 days acclimatizing and training. Sunday saw the first day of competition with the team coming home with two gold medals (Rachel Oemcke of Special Olympics Manawatu and Cameron Jarvis of Special Olympics Horowhenua) and a bronze (Rebecca Heath, Special Olympics Hutt Valley).
Competition continues over the next week with the Closing Ceremony being held Friday 24 March in Stadium Graz.
A true example of the Special Olympics’ Athlete Oath – Nathan Symister of Special Olympics Otago was forced to complete his final run of the day on one ski. Despite Nathan losing a ski half way down the course, he carried on to complete the last seven gates. The team had talked about trying to avoid disqualifications at all costs so Nathan showed tremendous courage to go around every gate and cross the finish line under such challenging conditions. He finished to huge crowd support and a very proud team.
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