• Wide angle view of a field full of people exercising, arranged in concentric circles

    Our History

    From a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities to a global movement, Special Olympics has been changing lives and attitudes since 1968.

    People with intellectual disabilities exercise in Maryland, USA, where Special Olympics was later founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

  • Ricardo Thornton and Nelson Mandela look at each other while holding a flaming Special Olympics torch

    Our History

    From a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities to a global movement, Special Olympics has been changing lives and attitudes since 1968.

    Special Olympics athlete Ricardo Thornton and Nobel peace prize winner Nelson Mandela hold a flaming torch together.

  • Athletes in winter jackets raise their arms after receiving medals on a medal stand.

    Our History

    From a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities to a global movement, Special Olympics has been changing lives and attitudes since 1968.

    The US Postal Services issued a stamp in honor of the 1985 World Winter Games held in Park City, Utah, USA.

  • People in colorful clothing walk in an opening ceremony, arms raised and smiling

    Our History

    From a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities to a global movement, Special Olympics has been changing lives and attitudes since 1968.

    The Special Olympics Senegal delegation in the opening ceremony for the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens, Greece.

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The 1960s

The first International Special Olympics Summer Games are held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, USA. A thousand people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada compete in track and field, swimming and floor hockey. 

Read about the 1960s.

 

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The 1970s

An idea that started in the USA begins to spread across the globe. Stigma facing people with intellectual disabilities is slowly being replaced with respect and admiration -- on the playing fields and off.

Read about the 1970s

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The 1980s

The Special Olympics movement continue to grow and to gain respect in the 1980s.The International Olympic Committee (IOC) signs a historic agreement with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver officially endorsing and recognizing Special Olympics. 

Read about the 1980s

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The 1990s

The first International Games are held outside the USA, as Special Olympics gains a greater global foothold. New health programs mark a turning point as well.

Read about the 1990s

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The 2000s

The Unified Sports program grew rapidly in the 2000s. People with and without intellectual disabilities teamed up in a growing number of countries worldwide. 

Read about the 2000s

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The 2010s

The 2010s have seen remarkable growth in the visibility and power of Special Olympics to changes lives worldwide. In the decade, our Unified Sports program exceeds 1 million participants; our Health program expands dramatically thanks to public and private investment; and the number of athletes with intellectual disabilities and Unified Sports teammates reaches 5.3 million.

Read about the 2010s