Jamaicans are ‘special’ champs of the world games

From left, Lorna Bell, executive director of Team Jamaica, Tim Shriver and athletes that represented Special Olympics Jamaica entourage.
Photo by Collin Reid, courtesy of Digicel, Scotia Bank & Chase Fund

Undoubtedly, the cadre of young Jamaicans that competed in California during the Special Olympics Summer Games will be recalled for their 19-medal haul back to their Caribbean island after winning in the most unlikely categories.

At the same venue where the 1932 and 1984 Olympics were held, competitions in 32 sporting events included basketball, volleyball, bocce, weightlifting, horseback riding, swimming and soccer.

From July 25 to Aug. 2, the island’s competitive athletes with intellectual disabilities also challenged and distinguished themselves in unified football, badminton, female futsal and athletics.

And from bocce to basketball, Jamaicans mined gold winning events that tested the mettle of individuals with disabilities — acquired or genetic — ranging from Down’s syndrome, autism, traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy.

Competitors as young as eight years of age were able to challenge others of varying ages due to rules which allow athletes to compete at ability level and not according to age standards.

The broad range permits athletes to compete without an age limitation.

Instead, athletes compete against their peers in divisions defining ability level.

An estimated 500,000 people turned out to watch 6,500 athletes from more than 160 countries. Every competitor received a performance ribbon and a chance to take to the victory stand following their competition.

Lorna Bell, the executive director of Special Olympics Jamaica, expressed joy after Jamaica’s bocce team won gold for the country at the World Summer Games.

“They have worked hard and this is a testament to their determination and hard work,” the delegation leader said.

“These Games have been life-changing and we hope that this will only be a spark that will light the world on fire with the enthusiasm, courage and acceptance and inclusion for all people with intellectual disabilities,” Patrick McClenahan, president and chief executive of the games’ organizing committee said.

Organizers claim this year’s Special Olympics were the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world in 2015.

According to Wikipedia, it all started back in June 1962 when “Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland. She started this camp because she was concerned about children with intellectual disabilities having nowhere to play. Using Camp Shriver as an example, Shriver, who was head of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation and part of President Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation, promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was executive vice president) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps. Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, providing year-round training and competitions to more than 4.4 million athletes in 170 countries.”

Jonathan Lowe won one of Jamaica’s two gold medals clocking 2:34.12 minutes in the 100-metre freestyle swimming final.

Nicholas McBean, mined silver for second in his division of the100-metre freestyle. Curacao’s Germain Lourens won that race.

Jamaica’s basketball team won silver in their division and celebrated like true champions.

In the group stage Jamaica defeated Greece and Saudi Arabia, but lost 49-27 to Australia.

The game proved a spirited contest and Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the international Special Olympics movement, joined the cheering squad to root for the teams and afterwards congratulated the Jamaican team.

Those close to the Special Olympics basketball team have credited head coach Calvin Martin for guiding the “inexperienced” players to such success.

“We are the darlings of LA. It is a good moment for Jamaica and for our sports,” he reportedly told the Jamaica Observer.

“It is a great experience playing for my country. It was a great fight, we got back into the game and we’re glad for that,” Joni Moncrieffe, a first-timer at the World Games and point guard said.

Owen McCoy, Jamaica’s power forward, conceded that beating the team from down under proved too big a task on the day.

“We put up a good fight and we got back into the game, though they slipped away from us again. We are especially happy after the game with the celebration. Everybody was pushing for Jamaica and everybody just loves us,” Valentinus Robinson said. At age 39, she is the leader of the team.

“I’m elated because when these guys started, some could hardly catch a ball and now they have won silver,” coach Elfema Williams said.

Othniel Nichols was first in his division in the 1500-metre event to win an athletic event.

The female 4x100metres team also struck gold after finishing first in the division.

Gavane Palmer got his second individual bronze medal when he completed the half-marathon run.

The male 4x100metres team also won a medal, finishing third in that division eight contest.

“This is good because every athlete on my team is going home with at least one medal. I could not ask for more,” Coach Tameka Lewelyn said.

Reportedly, Kirk D. Wint won hearts and souls and took the spotlight after he clinched a gold medal after narrowly missing the bronze medal in a 50-metre event in which — due to deformed lower limbs — he was racing on all fours against persons running in upright positions.

He also won gold in the softball throw event.

In his quest to win he virtually threw from a sitting position, while others stood, but the perceived restriction proved to be no handicap to the 13-year-old Jamaican.

“You know how long me a wait fi dat,” the teenager said smiling broadly.

“He has stolen the hearts of many persons here. He is the star of Special Olympics and I’m proud of him,” his coach Llewellyn said.

Before tackling the task, Jamaica’s Wint waved to the crowd as he stepped out of his wheelchair and into the starting block for his 50-meter race. Next he propelled himself down the track with the use of his hands because he’s unable to stand.

He finished fourth in that race.

Kimone Wright snagged the island’s first gold in a field event after placing first in the long jump division.

“I’m so excited for Kimone because we were concerned after she received two red flags in the preliminary jumps. But she was excellent and I’m so proud of her for winning long jump gold,” Lori Scott-Moore, another of the track and field coaches said.

Wright’s golden run also sured-up a huge victory with track and field athletes accounting for eight of Jamaica’s 19 medals.

Nicholas McBean won gold in the 50-metre freestyle swimming event, while Jonathan Lowe, after winning gold in the 100-metre freestyle finished fourth.

Leon Barclay barely missed gold after an impressive 50-metre breaststroke swim. Fans said the silver glistened like gold because of his tremendous effort. United Arab Emirates’ Abdulla Alshamsi won that race.

Janoy Daley, Jamaica’s silver medal winner in badminton was content being second. Satisfied with the outcome, he admitted to being emotional towards the end of his match against Iran’s Sajad Mahmoud.

“I believe I could have done better, but my coach Ocan and I, we did our job. I was tired and in a way I was teary-eyed. I really wanted to get the gold, (but) I’m satisfied with the outcome. I feel happy, I’m glad and my coach did a lot for me, so big him up for that.”

Othniel Nichols was first in his division in the 1500-metre event.

The female 4×100 metres team also struck gold..

Gavane Palmer got his second individual bronze medal at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games when he finished third in the half-marathon run.

“The 2015 SOWSG (Special Olympics World Summer Games) were a huge success for Team Jamaica. Our athletes came here to compete and do their best, and they did exactly that. We started with zero medals and we are leaving with so many,” Bell, the executive director of Special Olympics Jamaica said.

“I am thankful especially for the experience and the chance they were given to represent their country. It brought them a sense of joy, accomplishment, service, and progress. And the love they were shown was second to none! It is the simple things that make a meaningful impact. These games have impacted each and everyone in our delegation, and I humbled to have such a great support system of volunteers, staff, partners, and sponsors who went above and beyond.”

“Our next international event will be the SO Winter Games in Austria. These Games will be my focus when I return home, as planning has to start now to ensure our athletes receive quality training and also funding,” the delegation head director said.

Reportedly team Jamaicans were a big hit two years ago in the Republic of Korea.

Athletes won silver medals in two ice figure skating categories and took home a second-place finish in floor hockey.

The Winter Games will be held March, 2017 in Austria.

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