The biggest sporting extravaganza ever hosted by Alaska will feature participants and spectators numbering in what's expected to be the thousands, and drawing from some 80 nations around the world.
No, we're not talking about sled dog racing.
The event thrusting Alaska into this worldwide spotlight is the 2001 Special Olympics Winter Games, which are scheduled to run from March 4-11 in the Anchorage area.
The list of competitive events is what one might expect at a Winter Olympics: speed skating, figure skating, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, snowshoeing and floor hockey.
What makes these games truly remarkable are the athletes themselves, for Special Olympics exists to celebrate competitive excellence and skill among individuals with mental retardation.
While only a handful of the 2,750 athletes and coaches expected to attend will return home clutching gold medals as champions, all who participate will share the thrills of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test themselves against the best in the world.
Fairbanks will be sending its own team, whose members are expected to contend in speed and figure skating, cross-country skiing, and perhaps other events as well.
This community has already left its symbolic mark on the upcoming show in the form of a colorful tile mural, depicting a trio of speed skaters. The work, by local artist Nancy Hausle-Johnson, adorns the Harry J. McDonald Memorial Center in Eagle River, where the Olympic speed skaters will compete.
Special Olympics may be a world of its own, but the competition is no less fierce than what's seen in the games associated with traditional Olympics. Special Olympics speed skaters, for example, have been known to achieve world-class times.
Certainly, the triumphs achieved in these games are no less rewarding.
And every participant is a winner in the Special Olympics' arenas. -
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