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  • Special Olympics Chair Shriver Scouts Lillehammer


    (ATR) Olympics, Youth Olympics, Special Olympics?

    Special Olympics chairman Tim Shriver (ATR)
    Tim Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics, is in Lillehammer this weekend to tour Youth Olympic Games venues and discuss a possible Norwegian bid for the 2021 Special Olympics World Winter Games.

    “This would be a very compelling bid,” Shriver tells Around the Rings in an exclusive interview. “If they chose to welcome us, I think we would have a great time here. And I think they could do it – I don’t want to say easily because all Olympic or Special Olympics events require enormous effort – but they would have a lot of the pieces in place that make it a lot easier than it might otherwise be.”

    Lillehammer was lauded for its hosting of the 1994 Winter Olympic Games and the 2016 Youth Olympic Games also appear to be a rousing success.

    The Special Olympics World Winter Games are even bigger than the YOG, with 1,500 athletes from about 100 countries compared to 1,100 from 70 here now. Participants and their families would probably have to be housed throughout the region.

    “Norway has been extraordinary,” says Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics in the 1960s. “The facilities here are world class, needless to say, dating back to the (1994) Olympic Games. The facilities are still in fantastic condition and the venues are terrifically well designed and centered for a Winter Games of our size, which are quite large.

    “These guys, they can handle it.”

    But will they want to?

    Need to Catch Their Breath

    Kristin Kloster Aasen, first vice president of the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports, tells ATR that the organization is in no rush to decide and is under no pressure from Special Olympics.

    “Well, we have to finish this Youth Olympic Games and then we need to sit ourselves down,” she says. “It’s been very nice having them here and also learning about their expectations for the World Games in a very soft way.
    “I think we need to get to know each other and see if we can find a way to move forward together – maybe.”

    Shriver said the Special Olympics will likely choose the 2021 host in the next 12 months and then engage in a partnership with the city. Peter Wheeler, chief of strategic properties for Special Olympics, tells ATR that the organization has not visited any other city with an eye toward 2021.
    The 2017 World Winter Games will be held in Austria in the cities of Graz, Schladming, Ramsau and Styria, while the 2013 edition took place in PyeongChang, Korea, the 2018 Winter Olympic Games host city.

    Whirlwind Tour

    Special Olympics delegation visiting Lillehammer (ATR)
    Shriver and his wife, Linda Potter, led a four-person Special Olympics delegation, with all wearing new Norway NOC sweaters and hats.

    The group went to Hafjell in the morning for alpine skiing, then had lunch at the top of the mountain before returning to Lillehammer for a tour of Learn & Share in Hakon’s Hall.

    Posing for a photo in Learn & Share, the group chose the slogan “Play Unified.”

    They will go to Birkebeineren Stadium for biathlon Sunday morning, followed by the gold medal men’s hockey game between the United States and Canada and the closing ceremony. The contingent will return home Monday.

    “We’re impressed by the work of Youth Games and we’re always trying to learn,” Shriver says. “We have a team here looking at these venues, looking at the competition management systems, looking at the experience of the athletes, trying to just get better and benefit from the expertise of the IOC.”

    Strengthening Ties with IOC and IPC

    Shriver adds that if the Special Olympics come to Lillehammer, “I hope it would strengthen our collaboration with the IOC and the IPC. I think there’s so much we could learn, that athletes of Special Olympics could benefit from the training, the coaches’ education, the cutting-edge information on technology, the use of technology for improved performance, improved nutrition, improved fitness, improved lifelong wellness.”

    He characterizes the level now as “There’s a lot of potential, but not much done, to be honest. And I don’t point the finger at anybody on that. I just think we know a lot about how to reach people with intellectual disabilities and how to make them become empowered through sport and embrace the Olympic ideals in very powerful ways.

    “The IOC and the IPC know a huge amount about the technology, about sophistication around event planning, around sponsorship that we don’t know. We’re just much smaller. So I don’t think anything’s stopping us except past patterns have not led to a lot of collaboration, a lot of communication and I think that’s a great opportunity for the future.”

    Meeting with Bach in Future

    Shriver has been exchanging letters with IOC President Thomas Bach and expects to meet with him at a future date in Lausanne. He says their schedules do not cross in Lillehammer.

    Shriver met several times with former IOC President Jacques Rogge. “He has strong and heartfelt commitment to the Special Olympics movement,” Shriver says, “and from everything I understand, Thomas Bach has the same understanding of the value of our work, so I look forward to a strong relationship with him also.”

    Women's 100m heat at 2015 Special Olympics World Games (Getty)
    Special Olympics serves more than 4.5 million athletes and their families in 170 countries.

    The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held in 1968 in Chicago. For the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, President Obama appeared via video at the opening ceremony and Michelle Obama was in attendance.

    More than 90,000 Special Olympics events and competitions are held around the world each year.

    Norwegian relationship to Special Olympics

    In 2015, Norway integrated Special Olympics into the Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports.

    Aasen says that is not so unusual given that the athletes already belonged to the 12,000 sports clubs in Norway. “So this is putting the system together from the bottom to the top, taking the responsibility from all the way down to all the way up,” she says.

    Shriver says that Norway has had a reputation for decades of being very progressive on the issues of inclusion, such as those related to intellectual disability.

    “It’s one of the few countries in the world that has a strong identity associated with supporting, caring, including, valuing people with intellectual disabilities,” he says. “Norway has been very generous to intellectual disability related work in the developing world. Some of the great scholars in this field have emerged from Norwegian institutions and some of the most cutting-edge practices around employment, community living and sports and recreation have come in Norway. So we would be coming to a place where the love of sport and the commitment to inclusion are aligned.

    “We wouldn’t be teaching; we’d be learning. So it’s very compelling.”

    Written by Karen Rosen in Lillehammer.

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