Anchorage prepares for 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games

Posted: Friday, March 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- When Anchorage organizers sought to host the 2001 Special Olympics World Winter Games, they were closely questioned as to whether the city could produce enough volunteers to help out.

Anchorage fulfilled its commitment and more. Organizers have 5,500 volunteers assigned to jobs ranging from scorekeeper to lounge attendant to food server.

They're also putting into service 2,200 others who wanted to help. volunteers who answered the call after other jobs were filled have been organized into 80 cheering teams.

''Obviously, the community has come out in full force,'' said Nance Larsen, director of public relations.

More than 2,400 athletes and coaches from 68 countries are expected for the games, which get under way with opening ceremonies Sunday and run through March 11.

Organizers are billing the event as the largest sporting event in Alaska, and a showcase to demonstrate the abilities of people with mental retardation.

The games are an outgrowth of a day camp started by Sargent and Eunice Shriver in the back yard of their Maryland home in 1963. Eunice Kennedy Shriver went on to found Special Olympics in 1968 and the first World Special Olympics Games were held that year at Soldier Field in Chicago with 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada.

World games now are scheduled every other year, alternating between summer and winter games. Next up will be summer games in Ireland in 2003.

In Anchorage, athletes will compete in seven sports: alpine skiing, cross country skiing, floor hockey, figure skating, speed skating, snowshoeing and snowboarding. The last two are making their debut.

For the first one to three days in each sport, athletes will be assessed in a process games officials call ''divisioning.'' Games officials will gauge skills and divide athletes into groups or teams of eight.

''It would be unfair to have a high-functioning athlete competing against a low-functioning athlete,'' Larsen said.

Results for race events will be posted seconds after their completion on the games' web site.

The most popular sport at the games is floor hockey. Like ice hockey, teams consist of six members, including a goalie. Athletes play on a wood or concrete floor and use wooden poles without a blade as sticks.

Thirty percent of the competitors from Azerbaijan to Uruguay are on floor hockey teams. The venue is a Federal Express hangar at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport normally used for aircraft maintenance.

''I's just a very popular sport,'' Larsen said. ''That place will be rocking.''

Delegations from New York and Indiana arrived Thursday afternoon.

''I love to compete. It's fun. It shows people out there what we can do,'' said Kevin Brown, 34, a cross country skier from Albany, N.Y.

Kim Kinsey, 19, a cross country skier from Rome, N.Y., said she was looking forward to watching the weekend's other big sporting event: the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, the thousand-mile mushing race from Anchorage to Nome, which gets under way Saturday morning.

Shannon Lamb, 30, a figure skater from Indianapolis, said the games will allow her to renew acquaintances.

''It gives us an opportunity to see friends I've missed for a very long time,'' she said. ''It's important to see them again.''

Opening ceremonies for the World Games will feature two television stars as co-hosts: Frankie Muniz of ''Malcolm in the Middle'' and Natalie Ratano of ''VIP.'' The Pointer Sisters, Kristine W and Melissa Joan Hart also will appear.

The PAX Family Network will broadcast opening ceremonies and other parts of the games nationally later in March. Opening ceremonies will be broadcast live in Anchorage.


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