DAY 1 of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019: The Highlights

Every day we bring you the joy, the elation and the human connection from the day’s events at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

March 16, 2019
March 16, 2019

DAY 1: The highlights

Every day we bring you the joy, the elation and the human connection from the day’s events at the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.


The Special Olympics movement is all about inclusion and making a connection with fellow members of the human race and treating them as equals. Every day during the games we will start with a highlight of the day - that one moment that signifies that connection.

On day 1 that was…
Seeing thousands and thousands of athletes happily line up to register and gain access to Healthy Athletes and knowing that some of them will never have had access to such healthcare in their lives before.

Day 1 highlights

A few out of character UAE rain showers did absolutely nothing to dampen the spirits of the athletes, delegates and volunteers as the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 got underway for day one. In fact, anyone heading to Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC) today, where a large number of the competitions are being held, would have been hard-pressed not to notice and be enthused by the energy about the exhibition center as thousands of athletes put into practice all the training, sacrifice and the determination that has gone into months and months of preparations for the Games. From rollerskating to artistic gymnastics, the ADNEC halls were buzzing with activity and full of chanting, cheering and love.

Standing in the life line

Perhaps even more significant than the activity on the pitch, was the activity off the pitch, as thousands and thousands of athletes queued up to register for Healthy Athletes. This is one queue that nobody would try to cut or get grumpy about waiting in. For those who don’t know, Healthy Athletes is perhaps one of the most impactful elements of the Special Olympics which ensures that every single person of determination attending the Games is given access to a plethora of healthcare screenings, programs, and advice that will ensure, almost to a person, that they are healthier, happier and they and their parents and carers are more informed than when they arrived at the Games.

Healthy athletes is proactive – the program practitioners often treat people on the spot, curing ailments and concerns that might have plagued athletes' lives for years. Doctors on the ground yesterday told us that the pace was relentless but they were driven by the desire to help as many athletes as possible, people who often can’t express that they are in pain or discomfort.

Dr Katya Winner, a dentist from Germany was on holiday in the UAE last year and was inspired by the MENA Games to get involved in Special Olympics having had no prior experience of working with the movement.

For Katya who would normally see up to 30 patients a day in her small surgery in her home country had already seen hundreds of athletes by mid-afternoon on the first day of the Games, happy at how such screenings and treatment can make a real difference in an athlete’s life.

“If they are in urgent need like an abscess or real bad pain, they get treated in a truck we have here... We had one case where there was really bad decay, like with swollen jaws and they are living [with it].”

Katya tells us that the improvement to the athletes' lives after treatment can be so dramatic: “They have no pain! And they can eat.”

The Healthy Athletes program continues to change lives throughout the Games. To read Dr Timothy Shriver’s essay on the health priority of Games click HERE .

Back to the action

It was a great start to the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 for the UAE Unified Football Team who, thanks to goals from Khalid Al Maarari, Ayman Al Maqbali and Abdelaziz Al Hamour, secured a 4-0 win against South Africa. As you can imagine there were some hoarse throats in Zayed Sports City as the home team fans went wild for their team.

Inline action

Rollerskating is a curiously captivating sport to watch, seemingly simple at first – skate faster than your opponent – the tactics employed by the skaters and their bravery in skating as fast as they can is evident on every turn. And no more so when, during divisioning when there was a matchup of skaters from Korea, Russia and Hungary. When the chequered flag finally went down after 1,000m of skating, the three lycra-clad speed merchants looked exhausted having fought for position from the starter’s buzzer right through to the finish line. Literally, on a skate edge, this trio each balanced the risk of skidding out with the desire to best their competitors. In the end, it was Korea’s Dae Hyun Kim who won out but the determination on show was nothing short of inspiring.

Next up was an all team Bharat race – clearly rollerskating is a popular sport in India – but even more noteworthy was the team Bharat supporters' wonderfully relentless chanting of their own version of Queen classic ‘We Will Rock You’ – throughout the entire race. Determined to keep a tune and determined to support their team!

Spikes, dives, and singalongs

Heading over to the volleyball court and one of the most fiercely contested matches of the day was Slovenia versus Russia. If you watch volleyball on a regular basis you will know that it is traditional to high five every point, win or lose. But to the team from Slovenia, every point won was celebrated like a match-winning point and every one of their service points red-carpeted with raucous chants. No wonder they put up a spirited fight against Russia but eventually losing the final set by just three points. Win or lose, no matter, of course, the Slovenian team took a good few minutes to thank their most vocal fans!

Creating memories

The atmosphere on the first day of artistic gymnastics was electric. The stands were packed and the fans were excited. It was evident that many had met before in other Games, as joyful reunions and surprised shouts of glee were everywhere.

The competition had six sports at a time - with the floor exercises for men and women as the centerpiece. The crowd favorite was clearly the “rotation” between exercises - to which they and athletes sang and even danced as they worked their way around the floor zones.

Aside from the extraordinary skills on showcase, it was the sidelines that shone. Spontaneous dancing between athletes and plenty of hugs were the order of the day. This set the tone for a delightful and full schedule of talent and determination to be witnessed and shared.

READ MORE: Find the amazing story of Ahmed, the SO UAE vaulter who took up the sport just three months ago. Click HERE .