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Special Olympics New Zealand names 40 athletes for World Summer Games in Berlin

The New Zealand team on their way to the 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Abu Dhabi.

Special Olympics New Zealand today named its 40-strong squad for the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, which will be held from June 17-25.

The team has representatives from clubs around the country, from Southland to Auckland, with strong representations from the Manawatu and greater Wellington areas.

“We are really excited for these athletes, their coaches and their families, as the World Summer Games will be the pinnacle of their sporting careers with Special Olympics,” says Carolyn Young, Chief Executive of Special Olympics New Zealand.

Over 7000 athletes from 190 countries will compete in Berlin across 26 sports in the world’s largest inclusive sporting event.

Young says that the full team will head into their first training camp on November 4-6 to get to know each other and their coaches in Wellington.

In the lead-up to the World Summer Games next year, the New Zealand delegation will first travel to the south of Germany where they will be hosted by the city of Garching on the outskirts of Munich from June 12-15. From there, they will move into the Berlin athletes’ village ahead of the opening ceremony on June 17.
Young explains that the national team would normally be named after the Freemasons New Zealand Special Olympics National Summer Games, but the Covid pandemic forced the 2021 games to be postponed to December 8-12 this year.

“That created a tricky situation for naming a team for the World Summer Games, because we want to give the team a decent period to prepare, so we decided to name the team ahead of the National Summer Games,” says Young.

Special Olympics New Zealand received a large of nominations from 21 clubs around the country and Young says in many sports the competition for places was fierce.

“New Zealand only gets a limited allocations in the nine sports we are competing in, so we had to make some difficult decisions and some very deserving athletes had to miss out.”

The athletes will be supported by 19 coaches and support staff, under the guidance of Head of Delegation Rowena Massey, was Assistant Head of Delegation at the last World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

Massey explains that the selection process included a complex set of considerations, not just the sporting ability, as Special Olympics athletes have different intellectual disabilities or additional health challenges.

“Flying around the world and compete and live in an unfamiliar environment can be very  challenging for our athletes,” says Massey. 

“We had to consider how independent the athletes are, if they can travel without their family, if their health situation allows them to travel, but also how long have they been part of Special Olympics or if they have attended previous World Games.”

Chief executive Young says that the World Summer Games are the global pinnacle event, but all New Zealand athletes will first be focusing on the National Summer Games in Hamilton, starting on December 8, when around 1400 athletes and coaches will compete in 10 sports across eight venues.

“Our athletes have been training five years for these games, so we can’t wait for our national games to start.”

The New Zealand team for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, June 17-25:

Athletes; athletics: Jamie Davidson (Manawatu), Joshua Taylor (Wairarapa), Matthew Di Leva (Wellington), Quentin Mahoney (Wellington), Natasha Chang (Howick-Pakuranga), Melissa Cash (North Taranaki), Hayley Little (Tauranga); basketball:  Hayden Wilson (Manawatu), Nathan Winkelman (Canterbury), Laura Montongery (Hutt Valley), bowling: Joshua Ryan (Manawatu), Len Just (Tauranga), Shanae Dean (Counties), Keri-Anne Johnson (Manawatu); equestrian: Dominique Gilling (Wellington), Samantha Shepherd (Canterbury); football: Conor McCarthy (Hutt Valley), Louis Edwards (Kapiti), Cole Jennings (Kapiti), Uru Cook (Kapiti), Finn McNally (Waikato), Ash Coley (Mana), Conor Spinks (Mana), Todd Neal (Hutt Valley), Matthew Just (Otago), Shane Hewitt (Otago); golf: Mitchell Brown (Auckland); powerlifting: Ryan Stewart (Otago), Ryan Gourdie (Canterbury), Caroline Tangitau (Tauranga); swimming: Matthew Smith (Te Awamutu), Jessie Williams (Manawatu), Isabella Lammers (Canterbury), Haven Drinnan (North Canterbury); bocce: Aaron Campbell (Horowhenua) and Blair Smith (North Canterbury).

Coaches: Nigel Cash (North Taranaki, athletics), Wayne Bowen (Nelson, athletics), Wimutu Te Pou (Counties, basketball), Simone Kokaua (Waikato, basketball), Logan Amer (Mana, bocce), Helen Brookes (Mana, bowling), Fred Senior (Counties, bowling), Kara Lockhart (Waikato, equestrian), Matt Woodason (Otago, football), Bruce Neal (Wairarapa, football), Ryan Ziad (Auckland, football), Michael Brown (Auckland, golf), Sonia Manaena (Southland, powerlifting), Carla L’Huillier (Manawatu, swimming), Nicky Johnsen (Waikato, swimming). Support staff:  Ian Mischefski (North Taranaki), Olwyn Humphreys (Manawatu) and Bryce Johnsen (Waikato).

The New Zealand swimmers get ready for their races in Abu Dhabi in 2019.