Special Olympics World Winter Games launched with opening ceremonies

Athletes from 69 countries to compete in Anchorage event

Posted: Monday, March 05, 2001

ANCHORAGE - Under a fanfare of trumpets and the gaze of celebrities, family members and spectators, more than 2,400 athletes and coaches marched into Anchorage's Sullivan Arena on Sunday night for opening ceremonies of the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

Carrying banners from 69 countries, athletes filed in to take their athlete's oath and celebrate the showcasing of abilities of people with developmental disabilities.

Olympic gymnast Bart Connor, former Special Olympics athlete Troy Ford-King and local television anchorwoman Maria Downey introduced the delegations as they entered the arena to cheers from the capacity crowd.

Following tradition, Special Olympics Greece entered first, wearing navy blue and red. Greece's 43 athletes were followed by teams from Andorra, Argentina and Austria, the last led by native son Arnold Schwarzenegger.

By the time the host Alaska members of Team USA entered to a standing ovation, the floor of the arena was a sea of team uniform color.

The opening ceremonies, which included six athletes from Juneau, had a distinctly Alaska flavor. Native American groups from Seattle joined Alaska Natives in dance and a demonstration of blanket toss. And Melissa Joan Hart, star of "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," narrated a northern fable: "How the Eagle, Polar Bear and Walrus Found Courage, Bravery and Endurance in Their Search For a Golden Fish."

The Special Olympics events have a large volunteer contingent from Anchorage and other Alaska communities. Organizers have 5,500 volunteers assigned to jobs ranging from scorekeeper to lounge attendant to food server. Other volunteers who answered the call after other jobs were filled were organized into 80 cheering teams.

"Obviously, the community has come out in full force," said Nance Larsen, director of public relations.

The Special Olympics torch, the Flame of Hope, entered the arena by dogsled Sunday, driven by Susan Butcher, four-time champion of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

Muscleman movie star Schwarzenegger, the former chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, and son-in-law of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, administered the athletes oath: "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

Athletes will compete in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, floor hockey, figure skating, speed skating, snowshoeing and snowboarding. The last two are making their debut.

Competition began Sunday with "divisioning," in which games officials gauge skills and divide athletes into groups or teams of eight of comparable skills.

"It would be unfair to have a high-functioning athlete competing against a low-functioning athlete," Larsen said.

Results for race events will be posted on the games' Web site, www.2001worldgames.org/. The games run through next Sunday.

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