On this day in history, July 20, 1968, athletes competed in the first Special Olympics International Games – now the largest sporting event for people with intellectual disabilities, according to National Geographic.
The first Special Olympics International Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.
The official Special Olympics website noted that nearly 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from the United States and Canada participated in the first Special Olympics International Summer Games in Chicago.
On this day in history, July 19, 1969, a former Kennedy aide was killed in the ‘Chappaquoduck Incident’.
Special Olympics was created by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F. Kennedy.
The Chicago Sun-Times noted that in the 1950s and early 1960s, Kennedy Shriver decided to take action when he saw the unfair treatment of people who developed and learned slowly or differently because of cognitive problems beyond their control.
He was directly influenced by his mentally disabled sister Rosemary, the same source indicated.
“The opening ceremony included a teenage runner carrying a torch that carried the 45-foot-high John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope. More than 200 events were offered, including the broad jump, softball throw, 25-yard swim, 100-yard swim, high jump, 50-yard dash, water polo and floor hockey.”
“Children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and … through sports they can realize their developmental potential.”
In his opening remarks, Kennedy Shriver said, “Children with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and … through sports they can realize their full potential,” according to National Geographic.
He pledged that the new organization, the Special Olympics, would give people with intellectual disabilities everywhere “a chance to play, a chance to compete and a chance to grow,” the same source said.
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According to the Chicago History Museum, the inaugural games were organized by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne McGlone Burke, then a 23-year-old physical education teacher in the Chicago Park District, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundations.
The Special Olympics began and grew out of “Camp Shriver” — held in Kennedy Shriver’s own backyard.
The National Museum of American History noted that Kennedy Shriver was changing the way people behaved and responded to people with intellectual disabilities.
The Chicago Sun-Times stated that in 1971, the US Olympic Committee approved the Special Olympics as the only other organization allowed to use the name “Olympics” in the United States.
On this day in history, September. 26, 1960, Kennedy and Nixon square off in the first televised debate
According to Britannica.com, the first Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado in February 1977.
In March 1993, the Special Olympics International Winter Games were held in Austria.
The official Special Olympics website noted that the Games, hosted in both Schladming and Salzburg, were the first international games to be held outside the United States.
“The 1993 International Winter Games in Austria set a national record for media coverage,” noted the same source.
By the early 21st century, there were chapters in nearly 200 countries.
More than one million athletes also participated annually in 20,000 meets and tournaments held around the world, culminating in the International Special Olympics World Games held every two years, alternating between winter and summer games, according to the same source.
The June 2023 Special Olympics Summer World Games in Berlin, Germany welcomed 7,000 Special Olympics athletes and allied partners from nearly 190 countries to compete in 26 sports.