DAY 3: 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
UNIFIED MOMENT OF THE DAY
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 unified moment of the day - one moment that for us signifies that connection.
On day 3 that was…
Her Excellency Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of culture and knowledge development, who participated as a volunteer at the Games. Picture by @oloomad.
Day 3 highlights
U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Dominant in the pool
After a strong start in the 200m freestyle, Jerritt Covington from Special Olympics USA maintained a dominant lead from the start with the crowd behind him all the way. With a metronomic stroke rate throughout the race and spurred on by shouts of U.S.A.! U.S.A.! Brett capitalized on strong turns to finish over half a pool length ahead of his nearest competitor, fellow countryman Bret Giebel.
The race that followed - the final contest in the 200m freestyle finals - was a much closer fought affair with two athletes, Special Olympics Hungary’s Zoltan Jenei and Special Olympics USA’s Jonathan Pierce, trading the lead countless times. Displaying heroic levels of determination, it was, however, Pierce who fought off fatigue to earn the right to slap the water in celebration at the end. There is no doubt about it – these athletes have put in the hours in training and they are in it to win it.
With children let out of school for the day excitedly willing on the athletes, the crowds' cheers and adulation was echoing around Hamdan Sports Complex as the next event was the women’s 50m breaststroke. For each athlete in this category, it was not so much of a race against each other as it was a demonstration of sheer grit and determination. Although it was Faith Nyagaki Muchiri from Kenya who eventually won out, all three athletes basked in the adulation of the crowd and enjoyed their moment in the limelight, walking down the pool hand-in-hand waving to the crowd.
Mount up for the macarena
Outside the Al Forsan International Sports Resort riding arena, the wind was relentless, filling the air with fine sand. Inside the arena, all is silent, as each Equestrian athlete leads their mount through the delicate obstacle course. An occasional tongue click of encouragement is the only intentional sound, and even a horse’s hoof glancing the poles makes a loud chime throughout the space. Points are lost if the course elements are not completed in the correct order, if the horse approaches from the wrong side, or if the rider must repeat the element due to non-completion.
These seasoned athletes maintain intense focus and are using their considerable skills to stay the course with the spirited Arabian steeds that they have been provided. Their composure is remarkable, the self-evaluation of their performance after their rounds, impressive. So, all was very formal and measured, until, with a break in the competition, a spontaneous round of the macarena dance broke out in the arena! Suddenly the competition floor was filled with dancing volunteers, coaches, athletes, and parents. Serious about their sport they may be, but they certainly know how to loosen up.
We caught up with Team USA to learn a little more about their journey to the World Games. Eight athletes are on this team, from Alabama, Florida, and Texas. The coaches and Team Manager Jocelyn Diehl, as well, are from diverse states: Texas, Illinois, Missouri, and Maine. After passing State competitions, the athletes, Reyna Taylor, Joseph Bradley, Spencer Roberson, Renee Pfifer, Cori Davis and Robert Moore went on to National competitions. From there, they were chosen for this Delegation Team and met for a week-long training camp in Delaware. Finally, ready for their trip to Abu Dhabi, the New Jersey Police Department provided them with an escort all the way to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
Members of the team mentioned how appreciative they were of being in Abu Dhabi, and especially liked the Healthy Athletes hall: getting vision and hearing tests as well as the awesome shoes donated by Pierce Footwear. With a couple of days off before dressage on Wednesday, the team is going to the desert – to, what else? Why, ride some camels of course. I’m sure this lively bunch will have a great time.
A bout of enthusiasm
It was an aggressive start to the bout when veteran Francesc Xavier from Special Olympics Andorra took on Anthony Diot of Special Olympics France. Diot came out, grappling like he meant business. However, the more experienced player from Andorra held his own and managed to take his opponent to the ground - there was an evident single-mindedness to both players' efforts in this matchup.
After the first breakdown, the pair tussled back and forward across the mats as Xavier tried twice to throw his opponent. After being forced to the ground though, he managed to cover nicely but after a brief rest for health purposes, Diot fought through the pain but was still unable to find a breakthrough in this seemingly evenly matched bout. Back and forward this duo continued to go in a gruelling contest of wills in which both players were feeling the effect of the epic battle but the crowd, now feverish with excitement, was willing them both on. Three times they went to the mats with Xavier underneath, but it was Diot who eventually earned his victory as both fighters retied their Gis, which had been ripped from their midriffs in the melee. Laying his head on a nearby lectern Diot was overcome by emotion, tears rolling down his cheeks. He stopped and collected himself and headed towards the nearby stands to celebrate with his fans.
A St. Paddy’s day parade
What better day than St Patrick’s Day for Ireland to take on the MENA region’s most vocal basketball opponents, Special Olympics Egypt? With the Irish men and women teams playing on adjacent courts the chants of ‘Go East, Go West, Ireland is the best’ were heard in stereo in hall 11 at ADNEC. Ireland ladies got off to a flying start with a two-pointer scored just inside the three-pointer line by Ireland’s number 4, Gemma O’Keefe.
It was, however, number 9 for Egypt, Basma Bayoumi, who opened Egypt’s scoring with a simple layup but Ireland’s Sarah Thorne quickly answered and a frenetic period of play followed, which saw Ireland score again. At half time the score was 6-2.
At the start of the third period, a couple of fast breaks were rewarded by an easy basket for Ireland followed by recently substituted Siobhan Dunne who uses her height advantage to slot one home. After a series of free throws that didn’t hit the mark, Grace Hamilton and Sarah Thorne added two more baskets with a minute to go in the third quarter to take the score to 14-2. Egypt finally broke the second half deadlock with a scrappy two points just before the end of the third period. 16-4.
The superior passing game from Ireland seemed to be driving them towards victory, no matter how loud the Egypt supporters where as they tried to rally their troops with chants and bellows from vuvuzela. Perhaps, this was why the only successful free-throw of the game came from Egypt’s number 8, Esraa Mohamed. She obviously picked up confidence, as she scored a perfect dribble to the basket shortly afterward.
The crowd was starting to go wild now as the momentum seemed to be shifting in Egypt’s favor and Ireland now struggling to get out of their own half. Passions were running high as the score stood at 18-12. A free throw missed from Egypt, a free throw scored.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Ireland came out fighting with a decisive counter-break basket from Emma. Egypt broke back with a quick two points but Ireland answered back as the tit-for-tat of the second half continued. Ireland upped the pace and then Egypt called a time out with 33 seconds left on the game clock. The difference between the two teams was evident as the Egypt coach gave her team a serious pep talk but Ireland team were content with a friendly huddle. Could the MENA team do anything to answer the 13-point deficit? Alas, no, despite a valiant effort at the end. The final score 30-17 to Ireland. A determined effort all around.