Special Winter Olympics, Korea

Sometimes the word ‘inspiring’ is over-used or misapplied but there is no more apt description of the participants and their supporters at this very special event.

Ambassador’s Message – Irish Team at the Special Olympics World Winter Games Pyongchang, South Korea

1 February 2013

 It was my pleasure and honour to attend the Host Town dinner at Seoul Women’s University for the Irish Special Olympics Team on Monday evening.  If you follow us on twitter (@IrishEmbKorea) you would have seen a photo or two.  Seoul Women’s University hosted Ireland, Jamaica and the Isle of Man, an alphabetical grouping that coincidentally grouped three teams about the same size in number and all from islands.  The University had a buddy system so that every member of the three teams was accompanied by one student who was fluent in English.  Activities included excursions, games and explorations of Korean food and culture. 

You could tell from the atmosphere at the dinner and the video diary of the orientation that all the participants had had a great time.  As our guests at the dinner the Embassy invited Father O’Neill from Gwanju who has spent 54 years in Korea doing wonderful work for those with special needs and Sister Ger Ryan who has been engaged in the same kind of amazing work in Mokpo for almost as long.  We also invited Conor O’Reilly, President of the Irish Association of Korea, and Thomas Gaughan, head of the Seoul Gaels, both of whom are leading their organisations with great energy and commitment.  The evening was a wonderful start for our athletes.  I want to thank President Rhee Kwang-ja for the generous hospitality of her University and all the ‘buddies’ who introduced our team to the Korea and generally settled them in with such kindness.

Tuesday morning the teams were bussed to Pyongchang for the opening ceremony and the start of the games.  I headed to the airport to pick up the Special Olympics delegation of CEO Matt English, Frances Kavanagh, Pat Kickham and famed sports photographer Ray McManus.  We arrived, thanks to the amazing infrastructure linking Seoul to Gangwon near the east coast, in good time to register and attend the opening ceremony.  Some 111 teams proudly carried their flags in the parade. 

President Lee officially opened the games, following welcoming speeches by the Special Olympic global messengers, Burmese democracy advocate An San Suu Kyi, world champion skater Kim Yu-na, and Special Olympics Chairman and CEO, Timothy Shriver.  As usual, our Korean hosts outdid themselves with not only with the preparations but also with the programme of videos and live entertainment that made up the Ceremony’s programme.

Wednesday morning the games proper started with the Irish floor ball team winning their games to be placed in division two and later that day beating their hosts South Korea 11-1 (also see @IrishEmbKorea).  Participating for the first time in this demonstration sport, the team went on to take Bronze: they are certainly capable of much more at future games, having been pipped at the post by one point against Austria for a place in the final. 

You can’t help yourself taking pride in such performances but its important to recall that the goal is participation.  The motto of the Games is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”  Overcoming all the challenges they face, the participants take joy in the hours of participation and the moments of victory, whether that victory is a medal or the achievement of completion.  It is a lesson to us all to appreciate what we have and the simple pleasures of each day.

The team, coaches, Special Olympic officials and family members are delighted that local Irish supporters are making the effort to come and support them; Deputy Head of Mission Ruth Parkin and family with lead a bus load there for the Alpine skiing this Saturday.  For regular news and updates on the Irish Team’s activities at the Special Winter Olympics go to  www.specialolympics.ie/WHATWEDO/EVENTSANDGAMES/2013WORLDWINTERGAMES.aspx .

Matt English, his team and all their army of volunteer supporters in Ireland do amazing work for those with special needs (for more information go www.specialolympics.ie/GETINVOLVED.aspx ).    Eircom has been a stalwart sponsor and, like all sponsors, it is determined to continue its support.  I know this is really appreciated by Matt and his team, particularly in these tough economic times.

So best of luck to the participants in the competitions ahead: I am sure they, their family members, supporters and Special Olympics Ireland will leave with wonderful memories.

Have a great weekend,

Best wishes,



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