Berlin: The Special Olympics World Games 2023 came to a close here on Monday, after an evocative, emotional and triumphant closing ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate in the centre of the city.
The gate had served as a restricted zone when the city was divided by the Wall, and has, ever since been a beacon of unity — a fitting parable for a sporting event that celebrates unity, diversity and special skills.
India finished the final day of the Games by taking their medal tally to 202 medals (76 gold, 75 silver and 51 bronze), with the last of the medals coming from the athletics track. Indian athletes notched six medals from the track events (2 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze).
The headlines would undoubtedly go to the gold medallists Aanchal Goyal (400m, Level B Female) and Ravimathi Arumugam (400m, Level C Female) who blew away their competition to take the top of the podium. And yet, it is important to note that the colour of the medal is not in itself a judge of the performance. Saket Kundu, who had earlier grabbed a silver medal in the mini javelin Level B, also won a bronze in the Level B 400m, a rare double act in the track and field.
Speaking about the Indian contingent’s performance at the Berlin Games, Chairperson Special Olympics Bharat, Dr Mallika Nada was keen to highlight not just their performance but also the need for inclusion and acceptance of these athletes by the mainstream.
“A number of our athletes have faced social discrimination of various forms, and are regarded as non-functioning members of society in various quarters. It is an obsolete thought and an inaccurate one too. Their performance in the sporting arena proves that they are capable of great feats, or strength, speed, concentration and discipline. And I hope this opens the eyes of those on the outside and proves that we need to expand this movement further and make it more inclusive.”
The Games ended with an evening gathering at the Brandenburg Gate, with members of every contingent invited up on a stage to represent the spirit of unity and bring to the fore the importance of the Special Olympics movement.
At the press conference to conclude the event, earlier in the day, the conversations circled around how the Berlin Games had been a groundbreaking event, with over 330,000 people attending the World Games live. Many others watched on television and through other media.
“I feel very humbled to be in this city. The city of Berlin has welcomed us,” said Hanna Joy Atkinson, Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger. “This was my first World Games ever and I had the chance to do so many things as an athlete leader. I don’t want it to end! The mascot was ‘Unity’ – uniting countries everywhere and Berlin knocked it out of the park and the next country hosting should do that too!”