A Parents View

At the start of July Richard Cooke competed at the Special Olympics world summer games in Athens as part of the GB team. This was the biggest multi-sports event in the world this year with 7000 competitors from 180 countries competing in 21 sports. It was a bigger event than the Paralympics will be next year. While Paralympics offers competitive sport for athletes with physical disabilities, Special Olympics provides competition for athletes with learning disabilities. Richard was one of 6 judo players who were part of the 150 athletes making up team GB. The week before the games the athletes were hosted on the Island of Skiathos. This let the team acclimatize to the heat which was especially important for those competing in outdoor sports. It also gave team members a chance to get to know each other. The islanders were very welcoming , greeting the team as they came off the ferry, and providing sightseeing trips, a demonstration of Greek dancing, a party and even a play performed by the local High School. The team arrived in Athens the day before the opening ceremony and were taken to their accommodation. The opening ceremony took place in the Panathinaikon Stadium which was the venue of the first modern Olympic games in 1896. The three hour ceremony, including the parade of athletes, was based on Ancient Greek Mythology and Culture, but the highlight was a 30 minute performance by Stevie Wonder. Weigh in and divisioning for judo took place on the Tuesday morning. As well as the usual weight categories, players are entered in one of 3 levels. Light randori lets the officials check that everyone has been entered at the correct level. Richard was entered as level 2 but ended up being placed in a level 1(the highest level) pool for the competition. Richard competed on the Saturday morning. The oath which the Special Olympics athletes take is “Let me win but if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt” and certainly that attitude was seen during the competition. Richard competed in a pool of five players and so had four fights. He fought hard against strong opponents winning two fights by ippon and losing two fights by ippon, thus gaining the bronze medal and learning about different judo styles. The final result was gold to Kyrgyzstan, silver to Israel, bronze to GB, 4th to Germany and 5th to Kyrgyzstan. Monday saw the closing ceremony which again was held in the Panathinaikon stadium. The Special Olympics flag was lowered and handed over to Korea who will host the Special Olympics world winter games in two years time. The British athletes travelled home the following morning – Richard’s luggage caught up with him on the Wednesday. All that remains is a team reunion at the end of October.

By Fiona Cooke

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