Special Olympics: Huge medal haul for GB team

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The Independent Online

The Great Britain Special Olympics team has returned home triumphant after winning a total of 88 medals at the European Summer Games in Warsaw, Poland.

Some 46 learning disabled athletes and 66 coaches from across the UK took part in the games, which closed on Thursday, winning 36 gold, 29 silver and 23 bronze medals between them.

The games saw competitors from 56 European and Asian nations competing in athletics, badminton, tennis, table tennis, basketball, female football, bowling, roller-skating and powerlifting events.

A total of 1,500 athletes, 600 coaches, 2,000 volunteers, 200 sports referees, 250 medics and 1,500 family members made the trip to Warsaw for the event.

Laura Smith, head of the GB delegation, said: "We are delighted with the results but medals are not the most important thing.

"It is the participation itself that makes the Special Olympics really special. All of them are winners."

Special Olympics Great Britain (SOGB) said that for many of the athletes it was a great opportunity to leave their routine, very often isolated lives to meet new friends from countries around the world, and bond with their teammates.

Andy Heffer, SOGB director of sports and services, said: "Travelling in a foreign country far from home and loved ones, cheering each other on, proudly wearing the Special Olympics GB uniform, and eating breakfast at 5am in a tent with your breath misting over your plate - these are all great ingredients for camaraderie."

The games began on September 18 with the lighting of the Special Olympics cauldron at the opening ceremony in Legia Stadium, Warsaw.

Special guests at the ceremony included footballing legend Johan Cruyff, the Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski, and other Polish celebrities.

Simply Red's Mick Hucknall performed for the athletes and met some of the GB team, saying: "I am just thrilled to be here."

As well as the competition during the day, athletes had the chance to enjoy the the Olympic Village, which featured a climbing wall, internet cafe, games, hair stylists, face painters and a disco, each evening.

SOGB is a charity that provides year-round sports training and competition programme for people with learning disabilities. The charity enables each participant to develop skills, believe in themselves and be active members of their communities.