Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019 DAY 5: The Highlights

In front of full bleachers packed with proud parents, older athletes, helpers, and spectators who were curious at the spectacle, some of the youngest athletes in the Games were brought out.

March 20, 2019
March 20, 2019

DAY 5: 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 unified moment of the day - one moment that for us signifies that connection.

On day 5 that was

Jamaican sprinter Kirk Wint’s incredible silver medal-winning performance in the 50m running race!

Day 5 highlights

Bright young things

In front of full bleachers packed with proud parents, older athletes, helpers, and spectators who were curious at the spectacle, some of the youngest athletes in the Games were brought out. Corina and Daniel, our MCs with determination along with respected guest Mark Shriver, explained that the young athletes are between 2-7 years old and that they are about to have a lot of fun!

The Young Athletes program is a sport and play program for children with and without intellectual disabilities, ages two to seven years old. It introduces fundamental sports skills, like running, kicking and throwing. It is often followed hand in hand with the Motor Activity Training Program which helps athletes who are unable to participate in official Special Olympics sports competitions because of their skill or functional disabilities.

Mark Shriver said: “It is incredibly important for the Special Olympic that the young athletes learn to play and throw so that they can progress through Special Olympics.”

Both programs are a lifeline for parents who might have otherwise low expectations about the mobility and quality of life of their children.

After a brief warm-up dance along to ‘Baby Shark’ and the ‘Hokey Cokey’, a kind of organized chaos ensues in the Young Athletes hall as the children are led to various stations where they can practice balancing on beams, kicking footballs, shooting basketballs and a whole host of other sporting abilities.

Speaking to a teacher from Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs we are introduced to the determined Wada, a youngster who wears pigtails in her hair and is focusing intently on stepping from lily pad to lily pad on the floor.

“I am so proud of my children because it is the first time they have done this,” the teacher tells us. “When we come here some of the children were crying because they are afraid but now I can see them playing and they are enjoying. It is amazing!”

It is hard to believe that Wada was anything but filled with enthusiasm to take part in this demonstration as she happily climbs through some hoops and even hops along with a mini jumping course.

The Young Athletes program not only encourages young children with intellectual disabilities to get involved in sports and activity it helps them develop vital motor abilities and expand their range of motion and psychical abilities from a young age when the body is developing at the fastest pace. For many, it is a vital intervention that helps them go to be able to take part in the Special Olympics and can make a lasting and tangible difference in their lives. As many of the children run rings around the volunteers on the colorful obstacle course laid out in ADNEC, this is a room full of promise and hope for a better future for these children that they otherwise might not have had.

Battle of wills on the handball court

After a pre-game that featured a friendly round of high fives among both team, it is a cautious and cagey start to this handball game with the Games bronze medal on the line. It is Azerbaijan that opens the scoring in what is traditionally a fast and frenetic sport.

The goal injected a sudden flurry of pace into proceedings. Norway could only find the side netting in immediate response and then another to the crossbar. Then a second goal sends the women from Azerbaijan screaming and hugging with joy, which is again followed by another frustrating crossbar shot from Norway’s number 12.

As Norway begin to form a sturdy defensive wall they start giving away a few too many fouls close to their goal and the ladies in blue seem more than ready to capitalize.

It was, however, Katrine Simonsen for Norway with the most accurate and convincing goal of the game so far that opened up the tally for the Scandinavians. This was then underlined by a sparkling save the other end from Norway’s hard-working goalie. Their supporters had now also started to found their voice.

It was on!

Azerbaijan were now trying everything they could to find the angles but could not break down the now more confident Norwegian defense and another couple of crossbar clipping shots suggested that the momentum might be shifting towards the ladies in red. At half time the score, however, stood at 2-1 to the Eurasian ladies.

The half time talk from Norway’s coach was deeply tactical as she tried to give her team the key to unlocking their opponent's defense, a lock that despite the score, was proving decisively hard to pick. Would they be able to show the sort of determination needed to rally in the second half?

The answer – yes. Number 4, had one thing on her mind and that was the back of the net. 2-2, straight after half time. Norway were now rushing players that were making a break, cutting down their opponents chances as they cropped up and putting pressure on their opposite numbers. A stunning save from the Azerbaijan keeper, however, cooled the Norwegian attack a little, just as the shots were getting more and more ambitious with dives and swipes galore.

A smack to the head for Norway’s Anna Haugland as she lunged goal-wards eager to repeat her last goal, was met with support from her coach and then a free shot on goal for her teammates. As she is subbed off for medical care, the shot is easily cut down by the recently subbed number 4 from Azerbaijan.

At the other end, it was Azerbaijan’s captain the hard-working Irada Gozalova, who slotted it home with a stunning duck, twist and dive shot. But Norway’s number 12 had an immediate answer at the other end.

Will this game let up?

No, it won’t. This time a penalty goes Azerbaijan’s way and even the imposing figure and waving arms of Norway’s goalkeeper couldn’t keep Irada from repeating her success of two minutes ago. The score now 4-3.

Right back up the other end, it was again a soaring shot from Katrine that saw the Scandinavian’s draw level once again.

It is neck and neck with just under five minutes left on the clock.

Another penalty and again Azerbaijan’s captain steps up but this time no joy, much to the chagrin of her teammates at the missed chance to seal the deal. But wait! Another penalty to Azerbaijan, as the Norwegian supporters attempt to up the ante. This time a comprehensive save and then the Norwegians take the lead straight down the other end, 5-4, and the fans in red are on their feet, the noise deafening.

Azerbaijan calls a time out to try and slow the momentum and calm nerves. Blood is running high as the game resumes with 3 minutes 38 seconds left on the clock in the second half.

As play resumed, Azerbaijan’s captain was fighting to find a way through but Norway’s defense were now determined to frustrate her efforts knowing that the final whistle is tantalizingly close. Less than a minute and a half to go and the Norway coach is trying to get the overeager team to slow down the pace. A corner to Norway eats up seconds as they pass it around amongst themselves.

It is total pandemonium as Norway run down the clock with one final shot that crosses the line after the final buzzer. It is all over! Final score 5-4, Norway are bronze medal winners. And as they gather in a huddle, jumping up and down and chanting and cheering, celebrating the hardest-fought of victories, every one of them demonstrated the determined spirits of true champions today.