Hundreds of Indian athletes were welcomed to the United States for the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games held in Los Angeles, and they will head back home having earned 173 medals, including 47 gold medals. (See separate story on two Indian American athletes who also competed in the Special Olympics, one of whom took home four medals for the U.S.)
India finished behind only the United States and China for total medals at the Games, which featured 177 countries and were held from July 25 through Aug. 2.
The Special Olympics, meant for people with intellectual disabilities, have been held since 1968
Some 6,500 athletes took part in contests ranging from weightlifting and athletics, to football and golf.
India’s 173 medals is a feat that is even more impressive in light of the fact that the infrastructure and attitude towards both disability and sport in India is — to put it mildly — backward.
The Indian contingent comprised 234 athletes and 51 coaches in 14 disciplines. As a country, the athletes won 47 gold, 54 silver and 72 bronze medals. Athletics and roller skating brought in a big chunk of the medals, with roller skaters winning 39 of them, including 10 gold.
Some of the gold medalists include 14-year-old Ranveer Singh Saini, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 and picked up golf as a therapeutic tool at the age of 9. The Indian Golf Union, the apex body of the sport, backed Saini’s passion for golf, providing him with a coach and training facilities.
“Ranveer has brought honor to the country. He has made India proud with his inspirational achievement. All the children are special to us. His performance shows that the parents must allow their kids to follow their dreams,” golfer Jeev Milkha Singh told PTI from London. “We as human beings can learn a lot from this achievement of Ranveer. We can learn that nothing is impossible and that hard work will give you positive results.
“One can learn that if the desire is there, nothing can stop you from realizing your dreams,” he added.
Two years ago, Saini became the first Indian golfer to win two gold medals at the Asia Pacific World Games.
Ten of the athletes in the Indian team came from the Delhi government-run Asha Kiran Home; between them, they won seven medals. Phoolan Devi, 17, who won one gold and three bronze medals in powerlifting, was abandoned on the streets of New Delhi when she was 16, and was moved to the home by the police. Then there is Rajvir Singh, the son of a casual laborer from Punjab, who won two gold medals in cycling events. And Kushal Resam from Goa, who won two golds and a bronze in roller skating.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Indian team, tweeting: “Achievements of Indian contingent at @LA2015 @SpecialOlympics are truly gladdening. They are India’s pride.
“The @LA2015 @SpecialOlympics were a triumph of determination, hard work & sportsman spirit. Congratulations to all athletes who participated.”
India had won 249 medals — 78 gold, 79 silver and 92 bronze — in the last edition of the games, held in Athens, Greece, in 2011.
The 2015 games opened and closed at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the venue of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. Away from the competitions, thousands of athletes lined up at a medical center at the University of Southern California for the Games’ Healthy Athletes program. Before it ended, more than 500 people, including some who could not hear at all, had received hearing aids. More than 600 received new prescription glasses and more than 4,000 got new shoes.
The Special Olympics was the brainchild of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. That first year’s games in Chicago drew about 1,000 athletes from 26 American states and Canada.