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Special Olympics, a sports feast that includes a life raft for feet and a game with Swiss cheese

2634 athletes from 107 nations take part in the Special Olympics Winter Games in Austria. 347 athletes will compete in snowshoeing (pictured) (Photo: SOI)
by Henry Rull, AIPS Young Reporter, Estonia

GRAZ, March 18, 2017 – The snowcapped mountains of the Alps in Austria paint a postcard-esque picture for the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria. You’ll even see athletes who run in the snow, but there’s a catch to it.

Austria will host nine different sports in Graz, Schladming and Ramsau with two demonstration contests – dancing and Motor Activity Training Program - also on the schedule. What are these sports where the athletes are putting themselves to the test? A jeopardy question perhaps, but there’s no need to worry: we have all the answers!

Alpine skiing (hosted in Schladming-Rohrmoos)

The rush of speed when skiing down the mountain will push every athlete’s adrenalin levels to the maximum. They’ll have to manage the technical and narrow corners of the slalom and giant slalom courses. Athletes whose crave for speed is higher can take on the super-G. But make no mistake – while the super-G is considered a speed event, you have to have the technical ability to overcome steep corners. No mean feat, that’s for sure!

If slalom, giant slalom or the super-G isn’t to an athletes liking, they can participate in sliding or walking (ten meters).

Snowboarding (Schladming-Rohrmoos)

What connects snow and boards? Snowboarding, of course! As with alpine skiing, the athletes will push themselves to the limit in slalom, giant slalom and super-G courses. Those who can’t participate in these competitions can reach their goals at slipping and sliding.

Snowshoeing (Ramsau)

So, where’s the catch? Yes, the athletes will be running on snow but not just with their boots on. They’ll wear special snowshoes, which were originally invented thousands of years ago and distribute the weight of the athlete over a larger area so that their feet don’t sink into the snow completely. Think of it this way: snowshoe is a life raft for your feet in deep and fluffy snow.

The distances range from 25 meters to 10 kilometers so every athlete can participate in an event which suits them the best. Also, relay-races and a unified competition - meaning that athletes with and without intellectual disabilities race on the same team - will also be held for 100 meter and 400 meter distances.


Movement in speed skating is very similar to the freestyle technique in cross-country skiing: the fastest way to go around the track is to glide from one foot to the other. (Photo: SOI)

Cross-country skiing (Ramsau)

An evolution of snowshoeing where athletes will run against the clock and fellow competitors on skis. Athletes can choose from various distances – 10 meters to 10 000 meters – and styles: classic and freestyle. Furthermore, a one kilometer relay race is being held in a team or unified team competition.

Floor Hockey (Graz)

Similar to ice hockey, athletes use a stick to shoot the puck into a goal. While ice hockey is played on ice – a major surprise, right? – floor hockey is played on a hard surface. But athletes will wear helmets and paddings to minimise the risk of injury.

Floorball (Graz)

As in floor hockey, floorball players also compete in an oval-shaped field and try to gain advantage against their opponent with scoring a goal. But in floorball there is no puck nor sticks. Instead, players use plastic rackets and a light ball with 26 holes, which will surely remind you of a round Swiss cheese.

Stick Shooting (Graz)

The aim of the sport is to throw the stick as close as possible to the centre ring. Similar to curling, but without the ice, one might say. Athletes will give their best at an individual competition and at a unified team competition.


Cross-country skiing can be raced in two styles: classic and freestyle. For the classic races there are a lot of prepaired tracks that have pairs of parallel grooves cut into the snow. (Photo: SOI)

Speed skating (Graz)

Doesn’t matter if you’re more of a sprinter type or a marathon runner, speed skating distances range from 25-1500 meters so every athlete skating on the ice rink can choose their cup of tea. There’s also a 3000 meter relay race, which is held as a unified competition.

Ice skating (Graz)

Ice skating is perhaps the most graceful wintersport of them all. Moving on the ice on skates, performing jumps, turns and trying to get your movement synchronized with the music requires a lot of practice, skill and technique. Athletes will participate individually or as a group.

Follow Henry Rull on Twitter @henryrull

The Young Reporters Programme has been made possible thanks to the support of the European Union's Erasmus + programme

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