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Open Water Swimming Makes Big Splash in Athens

In the latest effort to provide a meaningful and competitive opportunity for swimmers seeking a greater challenge, the Special Olympics World Summer Games held the first-ever open water swimming event July 1, 2011. It was a 1500-meter demonstration event in the Aegean Sea near Athens, Greece. Thirty-five Special Olympics athletes took part.

First Ever: Thirty-five men and women took part in the 2011open-water swimming demonstration event. See scenes from the action

For many years, Special Olympics athletes have been competing at an elite level at open water swimming events around the world. This year, in an effort to provide another meaningful and competitive opportunity for our athletes, Special Olympics offered open water swimming at the World Summer Games for the very first time. The sport made its debut beneath a clear blue sky during the 2011 World Summer Games in Athens, Greece. It was exciting for the 35 athletes who took part -- and for the many others there to watch and cheer.

The athletes -- from 20 countries -- qualified for the World Summer Games by completing a 1500-meter open water swimming event in less than one hour.

Men's Winner: Andrew Smilley of Cayman Islands won the men's division.

Special Olympics Cayman Islands swimmer Andrew Smilley is a great example of the high-caliber endurance swimmers in Special Olympics programs throughout the world. In September 2009, Smilley joined five other Special Olympics athletes in the RCP Tiburon Mile Open Water Swim in San Francisco. Despite cold temperatures and windy conditions, Smilley finished 107th in a field of 800 swimmers, placing third in the 19-29 non-wetsuit age division. His amazing performance earned the recognition of, which awarded Smilley Greatest Open Water Swim of 2009.

In recognition of his accomplishments, Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, noted that, “Far too often, our athletes, athletes with intellectual disabilities, are viewed for what they can’t do. But Andrew Smilley is showing the world what he can do and we congratulate him... His performance in the RCP Tiburon Mile is just one example of how Special Olympics athletes are accomplishing great things.”

At the first-ever Special Olympics open water swimming event this summer, Andrew Smilley was back in the water, accomplishing great things. He earned first place after swimming the 1500-meters in 22 minutes. But he wasn't the only one making a big splash. Team USA swimmer Sam "the Iceman" Silver was there as well. Sam Silver has been involved in Special Olympics for 13 years and helped introduce open water swimming to Special Olympics.


Women's First: Cornelia Fowler of South Africa placed first among women.

Another swimmer making a big splash at the World Games event was Cornelia Fowler of South Africa. For the last many months, she'd been training in the pool and in open water -- about six practices a week; then she did core training with her father on Sundays. Cornelia finished first in the women’s open water swim, but says her favorite moment of the World Games was when she broke her personal best record in the 800-meter freestyle.

With a greater number of Special Olympics athletes participating in open water swimming events, the 2011 open water swimming demonstration gave endurance swimmers a huge opportunity to compete and achieve their personal best. Additionally, it offered high level athletes a true competition experience that can't be offered at local competitions due to lack of competitors with similar ability.

For more information about open water swimming, including rules, training methods and possible competition opportunities, contact Kester Edwards, Special Olympics International Coordinator at [email protected] or (202) 824-0366.