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A Joyful New Movement Gains Momentum

History Page Lead

An idea that started in the USA begins to spread across the globe. Stigma facing people with intellectual disabilities is slowly being replaced with respect and admiration -- on the playing fields and off.

After just a decade, Special Olympics International Summer Games are attracting thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world.

Look Back at the 1975 Special Olympics International Summer Games
Nearly 3,200 athletes took part in the 4th Special Olympics International Summer Games, held in Michigan. See some of the highlights.

Milestones of the 1970s

December 1971
The U.S. Olympic Committee gives Special Olympics official approval as the only other organization authorized to use the name “Olympics” in the United States.

13-15 August 1970

The second International Special Olympics Summer Games take place in Chicago, Ill., with an estimated 1,500 athletes from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, plus Canada and France.

13-18 August 1972
The Third International Special Olympics Summer Games are held in Los Angeles, Calif., USA. The UCLA campus hosts an estimated 2,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 U.S. states and three international Programs. Actor Michael Landon is among celebrity attendees.

March 1975
The first major Special Olympics benefit gala is held in Washington, D.C, with U.S. President Ford as honorary chairman and featuring a rare live performance by Barbra Streisand.

7-11 August 1975
The 4th International Special Olympics Summer Games are held in Mount Pleasant, Mich. There are an estimated 3,200 participants from 10 countries. Sports include basketball; bowling; floor hockey; gymnastics; the pentathlon; softball throw; swimming and diving; track and field events -- including the high jump, long jump, 440-yard relay, the mile; plus volleyball.

5-11 February 1977

The first-ever International Special Olympics Winter Games are held in Steamboat Springs, Colo., USA. More than 500 athletes compete in skiing and skating events. CBS, ABC and NBC television networks cover the Games.

8-13 August 1979

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaks at the 1979 Special Olympics International Summer Games in Brockport, NY. The crowd of thousands marks a stark contrast to the sparse audience at those first Games in Chicago just a decade earlier.

August 1979

In the 1970s, Special Olympics sports start attracting high-profile attention. Boxing legend Muhammad Ali would become a longtime supporter of Special Olympics athletes and competitions.