Special Olympics World Games: Everything That’s Good About Sports

Think about the first thing that attracted you to sports.

For me, it was the intensity of competition. The goal of competitive athletics is to outperform your opponents and there’s a strong interpersonal battle involved. Man vs. man. Woman vs. woman. Team vs. team. It’s primal, but it’s deeply entertaining.

Maybe you like the internal struggles of sports. Athletes trying to outperform their personal bests. Real, human people facing the limitations of their humanness. Runners training and strategizing to finish a race just a single second faster. Throwers and jumpers doing thousands of technical repetitions to add even an inch to their maximum.

olympics-logoYou might be the kind of person who sees beauty in well-oiled execution: a cross that just beats an offsides call and sets up a goal, a perfect 10 in any gymnastic discipline, a service ace in volleyball or tennis, a hole-in-one, a bocce ball that winds its way through a field of targets to settle in and kiss the pallino.

There’s something for everyone. Even more, there’s a unique connection with athletes and teams you cheer for. When they win, you win. Spectating is a deeply personal experience.

Starting tomorrow, the Special Olympics World Games kicks off with opening ceremonies at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN and the nine days that follow will be the single best span of sports spectating for the next four years.

More than 7,000 athletes from 177 countries will compete in 26 different sports. Some of the games will be on ESPN and you should find a way to watch as much as you can.

Whatever it is that attracted you to sports, the World Games has more of it than you’ve ever seen. The competition is fierce but never disrespectful, the athletes are inspiring on another level and the emotional connection is overwhelming.

The Special Olympics isn’t just about sports, it’s about people. And it’s majorly powerful. You’re not just watching the best athletes in the world, you’re cheering for the absolute most incredible people alive on the Earth. You’re seeing athletes whose total strength is barely revealed in competition.

The World Games are full of people who face serious, lifelong obstacles and the way they’ve overcome them is unlike anything else you’ll see. It’s one thing to watch impressive athletes, it’s an entirely better thing to watch inspiring people who are impressive athletes. Trust me. Watch the Games for a little and you’ll feel like a different person.

To get a taste of what you’ll see, here’s a short feature about Karen Dickerson, one of the U.S. long-distance runners:

Watch the opening ceremonies tomorrow and stay up to date with Special Olympics home page at ESPN. You’ll be glad you did.