My Experience at the Austria 2017 World Winter Games

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With the mascots!

One week ago today, the Closing Ceremony for the Austria 2017 World Winter Games happened, and although it’s sad that the Games are over, I had such an amazing time that I can only feel grateful. The people who live in Graz welcomed all of the athletes, volunteers, families, and coaches and made the World Games into a special experience.

My last day volunteering was March 23, and it was one of the best days of my life. I volunteered for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). I ran the soccer station, and it was really fun to see the athletes get recognized and cheered for by Unified cheerleaders, their caretakers, and their Unified partners. It was awesome to see all of them up on stage receiving medals and smiling so wide! Later that night, I just made it to watch Eloise, a British figure skater whose parents I had become friends with on the bus to the Opening Ceremony, compete in her free skate and win seventh in the world in Level 4 Figure Skating! After watching Figure Skating for a long time, I went to a special party held to thank volunteers and tried a lot of Austrian desserts with people who had also been volunteering at MATP. That day, my heart felt so full of love and happiness. There’s no other place in the world where you are able to meet people from so many different countries and cultures and become friends with them.

At the 1987 World Games, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics, said, “You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.” That definitely happened at this World Games where 2,700 athletes from 107 countries competed. Medals were won, friendships were made, and the world was changed. We, the volunteers, spectators, families, Special Olympics staff, and the people of Graz made these Games special for the athletes. They truly were the stars of the Games.

Some of the best moments of the Games for me were:

  • Meeting athletes from around the world and cheering them on, especially those from Team USA, Team Canada, Team Great Britain, Team Austria, and Team South Africa!
  • Becoming an honorary member of Team South Africa and getting to eat lunch with them and seeing them compete!
  • Becoming friends with fans and volunteers from around the world!
  • Meeting Tim Shriver, the Chairman of Special Olympics and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s son.
  • Meeting Mary Davis, the CEO of Special Olympics International, again (she gave a presentation at Pace University last year!).
  • Experiencing the culture of Graz.
  • Getting to see some of the people I had met at previous volunteer experiences/internships again.
  • Dancing with Team Austria on the first night I got to Graz and doing the conga line with them!
  • The award ceremony for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP). The athletes were so happy to get medals, and they loved the applause!

Here’s a video summarizing my trip!

Trading Tuesday: Austria 2017

unnamedThis pin is the perfect choice for this week’s Trading Tuesday because I just made it today! Currently, I’m volunteering at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. This pin is awesome because I ❤ Special Olympics, and it’s really cool to have my picture on a pin!

I have been having a wonderful time meeting athletes, fans, and volunteers from around the world. People are completely open with friendship, and they are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. So many people have helped me since I’ve come here and gone out of their way to do so. I think everyone recognizes that we are here for the athletes. This is their time, and by making sure the focus is on them, the athletes’ happiness, kindness, and openness is able inspire everyone else. I know I belong within the Special Olympics community because it is one huge, international family, and these Games have confirmed that. Even if people have different abilities, languages, races, or religions, Special Olympics proves that everyone can come together and find similarities.

Saturday night was the Opening Ceremony in Schladming, and I’m so happy I was able to go. It was so beautiful. The entire ceremony focused on the athletes as the stars. Even though it was pouring and bitterly cold the entire time, the stands were completely filled, and it didn’t stop people from cheering for each country as it paraded out into the stadium.

In Messe Graz, the place where Floor Hockey and Floor Ball are located and where I’m volunteering, there is a Coca Cola station where you can take a picture holding a Special Olympics pillow, and then have it made into a pin. Coca Cola is one of the sponsors of the Games, and they had such a cool idea with these pins.

My last day volunteering is on Thursday. So far, I’ve been working in the cafeteria where athletes, coaches, staff, and volunteers eat, but tomorrow and Thursday, I’m volunteering for the Motor Activity Training Program (MATP).

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Go Team USA! Go Special Olympics!

Trading Tuesday: Moscow 1980

When I was at the Rio 2016 Olympics and the LA 2015 Special Olympics World Games, I traded a lot of pins with people from around the world. I’ve noticed that some people are very serious pin collectors, and there were even some at both Games who were probably only there for the pin trading! I do it because it’s a great way to start a conversation with people from other countries and because it’s fun!

Since pin trading is such an important and fun part of the Olympic Movement, I’ll showcase one of my pins on my blog every Tuesday for Trading Tuesday.

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Here’s the pin.

To start Trading Tuesday, here is an Olympic pin that my sister gave me for my birthday. She got it last summer when she went to Russia, and it is so cool because it’s from the Moscow 1980 Olympics. The bear, Misha, was the mascot of the Games. I love how his belt has the Olympic rings on it! Team USA boycotted those Games, so I doubt there are very many Moscow 1980 Olympic pins in the U.S. It was such a surprise and so awesome! Thank you, Liz! I was so excited about it.

Two cities, Moscow and Los Angeles, bid for the 1980 Olympics. Moscow won, and it was the first Olympics to be held in Eastern Europe. The United States led a boycott after President Jimmy Carter gave Russia an ultimatum: either the Soviet Union would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan or the U.S. would boycott the Olympics. The Soviet Union didn’t withdraw, and as a result, over 65 countries and regions including the U.S. boycotted the Games. The map below shows all the countries that didn’t compete.

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As a result of the United States’ boycott of the Moscow 1980 Olympics, the Soviet Union and 13 other countries boycotted the LA 1984 Olympics.

Above images from left to right: Misha the mascot with the Games’ logo, a Misha balloon at the Closing Ceremony, and Misha on a commemorative stamp. He’s a really cute mascot! 😀

An Interview with Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey Coach

The Special Olympics World Winter Games start a week from today, so to start getting everyone excited to cheer on Team USA, I interviewed David Durandisse, the coach of the Unified Floor Hockey team from New York City that will compete in the Games.

The Olympics of Blogs: What are you most excited for about Austria?

David: I’m excited to be visiting Europe and being a part of this huge event. I remember our first practice and now that we are this close to departure, I’m excited to see all the work come together and pay off.

The Olympics of Blogs: How were you chosen to coach the team?

David: I was offered the opportunity to join the team and I accepted.

The Olympics of Blogs: How long has your team been training for the World Games?

David: We have been practicing since September, so about 6 months.

The Olympics of Blogs: How has your team been practicing to prepare for the World Games?

David: We have been conditioning to get their stamina up; live scrimmages to get a feel for the game against opponents. We have done a bunch of drills and live game scenarios to map out what we want to do in games.

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The Olympics of Blogs: Will you and your team walk in the Opening Ceremony for Team USA?

David: We will be walking in Opening Ceremonies.

The Olympics of Blogs: Do you think they’ll win gold?

David: I believe we have the players to win gold. We have a combination of size and speed that should work to our advantage to create scoring opportunities. I believe if we can put that together we will surely win gold.

The Olympics of Blogs: After coaching a Unified team, what do you think about Unified sports?

David: Unified sports is a great concept. I have seen two sides come together as one. Individuals who may have not had a chance to come together, now have that opportunity through unified sports. They have created friendships that will last a lifetime.

The Olympics of Blogs: What has been your favorite moment as a coach for Unified Floor Hockey?

David: Hanging out with the team and bonding with the coaches. We all started this journey months ago, and along the way we have shared many laughs on and off the court.

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You can watch Team USA’s Unified Floor Hockey team walk in the Opening Ceremony on ABC on March 18 from 2-5 pm ET!

The Austria 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games

2017WorldGamesAustrialogoStarting with the Opening Ceremony on March 18, the Special Olympics World Winter Games will be held in Graz, Austria! The Flame of Hope has already been lit and has started traveling on its way to Austria. The sports of these Games will be Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Floor Hockey, Floorball, Snowshoeing, Alpine Skiing, Nordic Skiing, Snowboarding, and Stick Shooting. Special Olympics New York City’s Unified Floor Hockey team and two of Special Olympics Pennsylvania’s speed skaters will be competing!

ESPN will be airing live coverage of the Games. Here is the schedule. I’ll be volunteering at the Games and will be at the Opening Ceremony, so make sure to look for me!

Saturday, March 18, 2-5 pm EST, ABC – Live: Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 Opening Ceremony

Sunday, March 19, 2-3 pm EST, ABC – Coverage of the Games

Monday, March 20, 6-6:30 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Tuesday, March 21, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Wednesday, March 22, 6-7 pm ESt, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Thursday, March 23, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Friday, March 24, 6-7 pm EST, ESPN2 – Coverage of the Games

Sunday, March 26, 2-3 pm EST, ABC – Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 – Best of the Games

Only 2 Left in the Race for the 2024 Olympics

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-1-54-30-pmOn February 22, the Budapest 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Committee withdrew its bid to host the 2024 Games due to increased opposition. The bid was withdrawn after all three potential host cities had already completed and submitted their three candidature files. Now, only LA and Paris are competing to hold the Games.

The opposition to the Budapest bid centered around Momentum Mozgalom’s “NOlimpia” campaign to push the government to hold a referendum about the Games. In total, 266,151 signatures were gathered, and as a result, the government decided to pull the bid. A survey conducted by Median claimed that 50 percent of Hungarians opposed the bid, and only 33 percent supported it.

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In 2017, Hungary will host the FINA World Championships, the Judo World Championships, the Finn Gold Cup, and the European Youth Olympic Festival. Even though it withdrew its bid, it is still progressing toward becoming a global country known for sport, and Balázs Fürjes, Budapest 2024’s chairman, believes that Budapest will win the Olympics eventually: “Our 120-year-old dream of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games remains alive… We continue to believe in the model and we hope to have the chance one day to prove the case.”

Since 2015, many cities have dropped out of the race to win the 2o24 Games. Last October, Rome 2024’s bid was suspended after of a change in Rome’s leadership, and in November 2015, Hamburg withdrew its bid after a referendum showed that 51.6 percent of Hamburg’s residents opposed it. In July 2015, Boston ended its bid for the 2024 Games, and LA became the United States’ candidate city.

The International Olympic Committee will vote for the host of the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics on September 13!

For more information about Budapest’s withdrawal of its bid, go to: http://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1047423/budapest-2024-chairman-confirms-bid-is-closing

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Who Will Host the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics?

Less than a year left to find out!

Now that the Rio 2016 Olympics and Paralympics are over, there’s only three more Games until the 2024 Games. On September 13, 2017, in Lima, Peru, the International Olympic Committee will select the host of the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics.

Currently, the competing cities are Los Angeles, Paris, and Budapest. Rome recently dropped out of the race. Here is a little information about each one.

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Los Angeles

Boasting 97 percent of their venues as world class and already in existence and a history of two very successful and profitable Games in 1932 and 1984, Los Angeles is running to host its third Olympic Games. Its arguments about sustainability are important, especially after so many recent Games have cost enormous amounts of money. Additionally, Los Angeles is focusing its efforts on making its Games the most athlete-centered experience, and it has actually been organizing and running Athlete Town Halls across the country.

Website: https://la24.org

Here’s a picture of me standing at the LA 2024 Athlete Wall in the LA 2024 office. Olympic and Paralympic athletes came to sign the wall in support of the bid!

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Paris

Similar to LA’s bid, Paris is promising sustainability with 95 percent of its proposed stadiums being temporary or existing stadiums. It aims “to minimize investment costs while optimising benefits for our communities.” Paris hosted the Games in 1900 and 1924, and hosting the 2024 Olympics would be the 100th anniversary of when it hosted in 1924.

Website: https://www.paris2024.org/en

Screen Shot 2016-09-18 at 1.54.30 PM.pngBudapest

Budapest 2024’s bid is a self-described “genuinely national” Games because it will bring Olympic competition to 90 percent of Hungary’s population in less than 90 minutes. Hungary has never hosted the Games. However, it will be the host city of the 17th FINA World Aquatics Championships in 2017, the Judo World Championships in 2017, the European Youth Olympic Festival in 2017, the Table Tennis World Championships in 2019,  and the European Maccabi Games in 2019.

Website: https://budapest2024.org/en/

 

I can’t wait to see what city wins the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics!

 

The Olympics!

Hi everyone! I’m sorry for not updating sooner. As soon as I got to Rio, it has been go go go because I want to do and experience everything!

Here’s a video recap of my time here so far!

I am loving it so much. Everyone has been so friendly both in the Olympics and in Brazil. Even if we don’t speak the same language, we somehow manage to make it work through hand motions, Google Translate, and body language. I am so grateful that I’m in Rio right now having my dreams become true! Thank you to everyone who has helped make this amazing experience happen for me.

About volunteering:

I’m working in the Main Press Centre at the Main Help Desk in Barra Olympic Park. I help journalists and photographers by checking them in, giving them their press kits, and answering any questions they have. I love where I’m working because I get to talk to so many people from all over the world and from big news outlets like BBC or The New York Times. Additionally because we are working with so many people from around the world who might not speak Portuguese or English, we have the help of the Language Team. It’s been really fun to start trying to help a journalist or photographer in English, identify his or her language, and then have someone there who actually speaks it be able to help him or her.

I’m the only American volunteer in my section, which makes it really amazing because I’m making friends with people from all over the world. There are volunteers from Russia, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, China, and Colombia who work with me. It’s been incredible to learn more about people’s lives in other parts of the world, and it has definitely been a life-changing experience so far. I’ve learned that some things are very different in other parts of the world (like people don’t say “bless you” after someone sneezes), some are close but different (the keyboards on computers in Brazil are almost exactly the same as keyboards in the U.S. but a few of the keys are moved around), and others are exactly the same in every country like smiles, laughter, loving dogs, and people wanting their countries to win gold! 🙂

Olympic Day

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To me, every day is Olympic Day (especially when it’s one more day until I leave for Rio!), but Olympic Day is also a day celebrated every June 23 to commemorate the birth of the modern Olympic Games in 1894. Every year from May 31 to June 30, communities and programs around the United States organize events to celebrate the day. Before my internship at LA 2024, I had never been to one of these events.

On Thursday, June 23, the LA 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Bid Committee and the LA84 Foundation, which was formed with the profits from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, hosted an Olympic Day celebration in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Over 500 youth in the Los Angeles community came, and after the Opening Ceremony, they were able to learn and play Sitting Volleyball, Volleyball, Archery, Rugby, Soccer, Fencing, Rowing, and Badminton.

The Opening Ceremony, staged in front of the Memorial Coliseum, featured LA 2024 Chairman Casey Wasserman, LA 2024 Vice Chair and Director of Athlete Relations Janet Evans, and LA84 Foundation and CEO Renata Simril. After the Opening Ceremony ended, the cauldron ignited, and a day of Olympic Spirit began.

We started the day off by arranging all of the students into the Olympic rings, which was kind of difficult but very cool. After creating the rings, each group went off to its station to learn the rules of the sport and try it out.

IMG_0686 (1)During the day, I was also able to learn a few new sports. I tried Sitting Volleyball, a Paralympic sport where competitors are only allowed to sit on the ground while playing. This was so much fun! I never enjoyed playing Volleyball in gym, but I really liked this.

I also learned a little Fencing from a very energetic coach. Before this, Fencing always seemed too foreign for me to understand, but she broke down how to play it for me. Although it was really hard (so much to think about!), I enjoyed the little private lesson, and I would like to try Fencing again. I’m really excited to watch Fencing at the Olympics because now I have a little more understanding of the sport and how it feels to do it.

Toward the end of the day, I tried Rowing. Because they weren’t able to bring a place where you could actually row onto the field of the Coliseum, they had rowing machines set up. I had used them before in high school gym class. Now I know what they’re really meant for because the person at that station talked me through what the motions on the machine stimulated in actual Rowing.

This day was really fun, and it made me very excited for the start of my internship. A little less than a year ago, I had been in the stands of the Coliseum watching the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony happen on that same field where I stood on Olympic Day. While watching all of the kids try out different Olympic sports with the cauldron burning above the field, I was really inspired. It felt right for Los Angeles, and it felt right for me. The cauldron of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the place where the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, and Olympic Day began, will hopefully light up at the Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympics, and maybe some of the students from Olympic Day 2016 will be there competing.

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For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs. I leave on Monday!

 

The Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony

When I was interning for Special Olympic NYC last spring, I met Annamaria who was also an intern. In 2004, she attended the Opening Ceremony for the Athens 2004 Olympics with her family. The Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony is one week from today, so I asked her about her experience at the Athens Ceremony 12 years ago.

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Annamaria with her grandpa at the Opening Ceremony

The Olympics of Blogs: How old were you when you watched the Athens 2004 Opening Ceremony?

Annamaria: I was 10 years old.

The Olympics of Blogs: What was your favorite part?

Annamaria: The entire ceremony was amazing, but if I had to choose one part, it was when there were two men beating a drum. One on screen at the site Olympia and one in the stadium. Immediately after this, a flame flew into the Olympic stadium and created the Olympic rings. I remember that being a powerful moment and apparently the drum beats were supposed to represent the beating of the heart.

Here is a video of that moment! Click the link to open it on YouTube!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2atZjcBqs4

The Olympics of Blogs: As someone who is Greek and American, do you think that you experienced the Ceremony differently from people of different nationalities?

Annamaria: I would say for Greek people from Greece and around the world, this Ceremony was very important to them and once in a lifetime. I was very proud to have the Olympic Games back at home in Greece and very grateful that I could experience the Ceremony in person. I also think the Olympics are very important to Americans, and they also have a lot of pride as well. So it was a really special night, experiencing the entire ceremony as both a proud Greek and American. We had both the American and Greek flag with us; this made the whole experience of cheering for the Greek and American athletes really fun! We were cheering for everyone though. The people sitting near us were from different areas around the world, so we were cheering with them too and just having a great time!

The Olympics of Blogs: Could you describe the ceremony?

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Annamaria: The entire ceremony felt surreal. I was sad when it ended because I didn’t want it to end! It was a very well put together ceremony and very symbolic, which ties in with the importance of symbolism and philosophy in Greek history and culture. A large portion of the ceremony was the procession of the history of Greece until modern day. It was so beautiful to watch. A moment that stuck out to me the most was when the athletes from Iraq walked out. The entire stadium started cheering very loud for them to support them, given the political tensions that were happening around the world at that time. It really proves how the Olympics can be unifying and bring peace during times of political division in the world. Overall, the entire ceremony was beautiful and well put together. The feeling in the stadium was full of happiness, excitement, and pride from everyone.
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I’m still working on trying to get Opening Ceremony tickets of my own! We’ll see how that goes as we get closer to August 5. Only 7 days to go until the 2016 Rio Opening Ceremony.

For faster updates while I’m at the Olympics, follow the Olympics of Blogs on Instagram @theolympicsofblogs.