• Special Olympics in the 2000s

    Our fourth decade is all about growth -- exponential growth around the world. Millions of athletes are taking part in thousands of competitions every year. The sun never sets on the Special Olympics movement!

    Special Olympics athlete Ricardo Thornton, left, and former South African President Nelson Mandela carry the torch during the African Hope campaign. This was part of a major push in 2001 to reach more athletes in Africa.

  • Special Olympics in the 2000s

    Our fourth decade is all about growth -- exponential growth around the world. Millions of athletes are taking part in thousands of competitions every year. The sun never sets on the Special Olympics movement!

    In 2009, the U.S. National Portrait Gallery unveiled a historic painting of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and five Special Olympics athletes. It was the first portrait ever commissioned of an individual who did not serve as U.S. President or First Lady.

The Sun Never Sets on the Special Olympics Movement

The first Special Olympics World Summer Games held outside the USA were an astonishing success. As this video shows, the joy and power of these 2003 Games in Dublin "transformed" Ireland in ways no one expected. The Special Olympics World Games next move to Asia -- Japan in 2005 and China in 2007 -- changing attitudes and advancing policies for people with intellectual disabilities worldwide.

Special Olympics District of Columbia athlete Ricardo Thornton with Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

12-14 July 2001

Cape Town, Johannesburg and Sun City, South Africa host Special Olympics African Hope. Former President Nelson Mandela, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Special Olympics athletes gather to light the Flame of Hope and kick off the largest Law Enforcement Torch Run through the streets of Cape Town. The event generates awareness of the movement throughout the continent. It also launches a major push to reach 100,000 new athletes in Africa by 2005.

21-29 June 2003

Ireland hosts the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside the United States. 5,500 athletes participate in this landmark event. It is the world's largest sporting event in 2003, capturing the hearts and imaginations of the Irish people.
The impressive Opening Ceremony for the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai.

World Games in China

The city of Shanghai, China, hosts the 12th Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2007. The Games are broadcast internationally on a vast scale. Participation is at a record high -- bringing together more than 7,500 athletes from 164 countries take part. 

 

These Games debut a new initiative called Young Athletes, aimed at children with intellectual disabilities ages 2 to 7. 

Next: The 2010s

As the movement continues to grow, the joy of Unified Sports is bringing together people with and without intellectual disabilities on every continent. We invite the world to come play with us -- and experience the transformative power of sports. Learn more about Special Olympics in the 2010s.