The Special Olympics World Winter Games are officially underway after a spectacular celebration of inclusion at the Opening Ceremony in Schladming.
Despite the wet and cold conditions, Team Australia and the 105 delegations were greeted by more than 12,000 family members, volunteers and fans cheering them on, before the Games were officially declared open by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen.
Special Olympics Inc. Chairman Tim Shriver enthusiastically declared, "We can and we will create a world of welcome!"
"The world of Special Olympics says thank you Austria 2017."
Award-winning recording artist Helene Fischer inspired the crowd with the official Games anthem 'Fighter'. Singer/songwriter Jason Mraz and America’s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal rounded off the entertainment with a stirring rendition of Mraz’s hit songs I’m Yours and the inspirational I Won’t Give Up.
The Opening Ceremony was broadcast globally on ESPN, only the second time this has happened at a Special Olympics World Games.
Torch Run Final Leg
The Opening Ceremony also featured the conclusion of the Law Enforcement Torch Run Final Leg with the Flame of Hope being delivered in spectacular fashion on skis down the snow fields of Schladming.
Special Olympics Australia athlete Andrew Negrelli had an important role to play, recieving the flame from local law enforcement officers and delivering it into the stadium for the final stage of the lighting of the cauldron. Great work Andrew!
for photos from the Final Leg Torch Run
Hitting the Slopes
On Saturday our Alpine skiers and Snowboarders hit the slopes of Schladming for the first day of Super Giant Slalom divisioning.
They were cheered on by Special Olympics Australia board member and fellow athlete Ben Haack, with his mentor and long-time volunteer Susie Bennett-Yeo. Ben is also a member of the Special Olympics Inc. board.
The first day of competition for the Super Giant Slalom event will take place Sunday (Monday morning in Australia).
Host Town Experience
Team Australia spent their first few days in Austria experiencing the local culture as part of the host town experience. The were shown around town by Schladming Middle School and hit the slopes for some training in Rohrmoos.
These Games have seen the biggest World Winter Games Host Town ever. Host Town gives athletes the best possible way to adjust to a new time zone, new types of foods, new language and new climate ahead of World Games competition. It also brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities on a new, often more personal, level.
We were delighted to have ESPN along to the Team Farewell in Sydney last Monday. Reporter Stephanie Brantz interviewed every athlete, capturing their excitement at competing in Austria. Click here to see the video.
ESPN also featured an inspirational story, written by Stephanie Brantz, on the journey of Kristian Sandercoe and the relationship with his coach Luke Fitzpatrick. Click here
to read the story.