For eight days in March 2001, a special part of the world came to Alaska.

More than 2,750 athletes and coaches from 80 nations came to Anchorage for the Special Olympics World Winter Games, the biggest global sporting event in the state’s history.

People showed up in huge numbers to watch the competition. Speedskating fans were turned away at the packed McDonald Center, and the Tesoro Sports Center drew 4,500 to 5,000 spectators a day for figure skating, twice the number expected. More than 6,000 people worked as volunteers, and when the Games ended, many of them said they got more than they
gave.

The local organizing committee raised $17 million to stage the Games, which left the city with about $4 million in capital improvements at places like Kincaid, Alyeska and Hilltop. $21.8 million was added to the local economy.

Less quantifiable was the lingering impression left by the athletes.

‘’If our goals were to change attitudes for a generation,” one organizer said, “then we’ve succeeded.”

During the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Anchorage, Alaska, a U.S. Senate field hearing on the health status of people with developmental disabilities was held. This hearing, which culminated in a landmark report issued by the U.S. Surgeon, General, was a “wake up call” to improve the quality of health care for people with intellectual developmental disabilities.

“To the people of Alaska, you have created the best winter Games in the history of Special Olympics,” Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics movement, told the audience at the farewell ceremony. “This week here in beautiful Alaska, we have seen the best in sports, the best in volunteers, the best in families, and the best in sponsors,” she said. “You are the best athletes in the world. Congratulations.”
– Beth Bragg

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