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Recognition and Growth Around the World


From the U.N. to the I.O.C., Special Olympics gains recognition as the premier sports organization for people with intellectual disabilities around the world.

Milestones of the 1980s

June 1981
Wichita, Kansas (USA) Police Chief Richard LaMunyon launches a Special Olympics awareness campaign that becomes the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics. The Torch Run grows into the movement's largest grassroots fundraiser.

By the mid-1980s, Special Olympics programs have spread to more than 50 countries on every major continent. In 1983, an estimated 4,000 athletes attended the 1983 International Special Olympics Summer Games in Louisiana, USA.

The U.S. Postal Service released this stamp prototype to mark the growth of Special Olympics winter sports -- and salute the 1985 International Winter Games in Park City, Utah.

The United Nations launches the International Year of Special Olympics. The theme is “Special Olympics—Uniting the World.”

Summer 1987
The 1987 International Summer Games in Indiana marked the first primetime broadcast of a Special Olympics event on a major network (ABC-TV).

October 1987
“A Very Special Christmas,” a benefit album featuring holiday music by top rock 'n' roll performers, is released worldwide. It is produced by Jimmy and Vicki Iovine of A&M Records and Bobby Shriver, with all earnings going to Special Olympics. More than 2 million records, compact discs and cassette tapes are sold.

A Very Special Christmas
'A Very Special Christmas' broke records as the most successful benefit recording series ever. Take a look behind the scenes.

February 1988
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) signs a historic agreement with Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver officially endorsing and recognizing Special Olympics.

July 1988
The Special Olympics Unified Sports initiative is launched at Special Olympics conferences in Reno, Nevada, and Lake Tahoe, California. Unified Sports brings together people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same teams. Bowling, volleyball and softball are the first sports to be included.