I went to wave the Special Olympics GB team off as they boarded the Eurostar to Belgium on Tuesday 9th September 2014. They’ll be competing in the 2014 European Summer Games in Antwerp.
I’d never seen so many people dancing so joyfully to a brass band before. Or an athlete doing a handstand next to a train. The Queen didn’t dance when I went to see her at the St. Pancras. She didn’t do a handstand either. Although one can’t be sure if the Queen can do handstands.
That morning, Sir Ben Ainslie had been on the radio talking about an £80m budget he’d got to get the America’s Cup going, and how he hoped the UK would be excited about it. Standing with 100 uber enthusiastic athletes, coaches and officials operating on a budget an eightieth of Ainslie’s £80m put that in perspective.
I spoke to the CEO of the Special Olympics GB, Karin Wallin.
“How long have you been working with the Special Olympics?”
“I’ve been involved for 22 years and the event has been going for 36. It was set up by JFK’s sister, Eunice – because Rosemary Kennedy had an intellectual disability. The Special Olympics now reaches 170 countries and 4 million athletes.”
“When do the Games take place?”
“The European Summer Games take place from 13 September until 20 September 2014. About 2,000 athletes with learning disabilities from 58 European countries will take part.”
“What sports are there?”
“Athletics, Artistic Gymnastics, Football, Bocce, Badminton, Basketball, Cycling, Judo, Table Tennis and Swimming.”
Just before the athletes catch their train, one of them waltzes over to where I’m standing with the Eurostar press team.
“How can you not dance?!” She says.
And I really don’t have an answer.
Almost 1.2 million people in the UK (2% of the population) have an intellectual disability. If you would like to find out more about Special Olympics GB & their European Summer Games team, please visit www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk