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Austria Hands 'Flame of Hope' to Abu Dhabi as Curtain Falls on Spectacular World Winter Games

15,000 people gather at the Merkur Arena in Graz, Austria to bid farewell to the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017.

Press Release

The Closing Ceremony featured Special Olympics ambassador Arnold Schwarzenegger who paid tribute to the people of Austria. Speaking to an audience of Special Olympics athletes from 105 nations, Schwarzenegger spoke of his pride at seeing the Games return to his native county and commended the athletes for their determination, courage and talent.

“I’m so happy that you are all here, because you are all the greatest athletes in the world. And I’m really proud of these Games – they were the best and biggest in history,” said Mr. Schwarzenegger.

The 90 minute closing ceremony show proved to be a popular attraction with extra tickets being made available in advance. Performances included Rose May Alaba, who sang the Coca-Cola Unified song 'Can you feel it,' and Helene Fischer, who thrilled the crowd with her delivery of the Games anthem 'Fighter.'

Passing of the Torch

The official passing of the Special Olympics flag to the next World Games host country, was marked as President of Special Olympics Austria, Jürgen Winter handed the iconic flag to members of the Games Organizing Committee of Abu Dhabi. The Special Olympics World Summer Games will be held in capital of the UAE in March 2019 and will see 7,000 athletes participate.

The Mayor of Graz, Siegfried Nagl, addressed the crowd and said: “The flame might be gone but the fire is still burning.” There was also a Unified dance demonstration, featuring dangers with and without intellectual disabilities, from the dance group “Ich bin O.K.”

13-year old America´s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal got the audience moving when she performed two of her songs; “I don´t know my name” and “Light the Sky,” before she handed over the stage to honorary president of Special Olympics Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"Heartbeat for the world," was the motto of this year's Special Olympics World Winter Games, the world’s largest winter sports event for people with intellectual disabilities, taking place from March 14 to 25. More than 2600 athletes from 105 nations, 1100 coaches, 5000 family members, 3000 volunteers and 600 journalists and media representatives were present at the sporting venues at Graz, Schladming and Ramsau am Dachstein.

Inspiring Words

Mary Davis, Special Olympics Chief Executive Officer: "What an incredible eight days of competition for our 2,600 athletes. We have seen pure sports moments of tenacity, determination, courage and fun. Our athletes came to these Games to show the world their talents – the results of their hard work. And they delivered. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to everyone who made these Games possible – to the 2017 Games Organizing Committee and citizens of Austria who welcomed us back into their communities to host these Games, and to the thousands of volunteers who joined us to put on a spectacular Games. We would not have been able to host these Games without your unwavering support. I know that each and every one of you that experienced these World Games felt a true heartbeat of inclusion and I hope that you leave these Games knowing that you have the power to be a game changer for inclusion. You have the power to change hearts and minds and I know that these Games leave an even stronger legacy in Austria of inclusion for all!"

Jürgen Winter, President of Special Olympics Austria: "The Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 were the Games of all Games! Austria could show how cordial its people as well as its culture can be. In the future we need to seize this launch vehicle to further the cause for people with mental impairments and move a step forward to a change of the whole of society."

Marc Angelini, Director of Austria 2017: "I was present throughout 13 World Games in various positions and therefore I know well what can be good and what can’t work. If you are being praised by athletes and coaches and only see radiating faces, if you can witness the happiness and this unique atmosphere, then this speaks for itself even more. The entire team did something remarkable, something incomprehensible. First and foremost we set a signal that reaches far beyond any borders concerning sport, humanity."

Markus Pichler, Director of Austria 2017: "We definitely reached our goal to carry the message of Special Olympics into society. We showed what inclusion means, that it works and what the people are capable of. This is the true value of the World Winter Games. The spark jumped over to the people, they are talking about it and concerning themselves with it. The topic is now present in the heads of the people – in the future, a lot of things will happen in this regard. Concerning the organization of the event we showed that Austria is a great host country. Somebody told me: Such a level of professionalism paired with such cordiality! This amazing praise is deserved by everybody who was part of it."

About Special Olympics

Special Olympics is a global movement that unleashes the human spirit through the transformative power and joy of sports, every day around the world. We empower people with intellectual disabilities to become accepted and valued members of their communities, which leads to a more respectful and inclusive society for all. Using sports as the catalyst and programming around health and education, Special Olympics is fighting inactivity, injustice and intolerance. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to more than 5.3 million athletes and Unified partners in 170 countries. With the support of more than 1 million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and over 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. Special Olympics is supported by individuals, foundations and partners. Click here for a full list of partners. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and our blog.