Opening Ceremony Kicked Off World's Largest Sporting Event of 2017

As the “Flame of Hope” was lit in the Planai Stadium in Schladming, Austria, more than 2,600 athletes from 105 nations took the Special Olympics oath promising, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” The dramatic culmination marked the opening of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, the largest sporting event in the world in 2017.

Live Broadcast Reached 190 Countries

The star-studded opening ceremonies produced by Kuner Television, was broadcast live on ABC/ESPN around the world to 190 countries and via local Austrian broadcaster ORF and featured performances by pop-folk-song-smith Jason Mraz and 13-year-old winner of America’s Got Talent Grace Vander Waal, as well as European megastar Helene Fischer.

Highlights of the Opening Ceremony included the Parade of Athletes, a unified choir, the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run staged by a team of 105 skiers, and remarks by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, and Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy Shriver.

“It is my hope that after the Special Olympics World Winter Games, the spotlight does not dim, but continues to shine for those with intellectual disabilities, with you serving as a role model in your home countries.”
Alexander Van der Bellen, Austrian President

Performances and the Parade of Athletes

The ceremony also featured Maria Naber, a dancer with intellectual disabilities who performed a theatrical interpretation, dancing with Dundu dolls (magical light creatures), cheeky Glöckner (bell ringers) and jesters, traditional musicians and the wild Perchten (evil spirits).

The Parade of Athletes featured numerous original musical creations. Singer Rose May Alaba performed the Coca-Cola Unified song while the 105 delegations entered the stadium.

The delegations were accompanied by Dr. Timothy Shriver, Chairman Special Olympics International, and Mary Davis, CEO Special Olympics International, and members of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, including ice-skating legend Michelle Kwan, gold medalists NBA legend Sam Perkins and Olympic swimmer Donna De Varona, Vice Chairman Angelo Moratti, and Princess Charlene of Monaco.

Prominent supporters walked with delegations, including singer/songwriter Jason Mraz; John Skipper, President, ESPN Inc. and co-chairman Disney Media Networks; Princess Nora of Liechtenstein; Archduke Guillaume of Luxembourg; Minister Hans Peter Doskozil; Minister Wolfgang Sobotka; Governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhöfer; president of the BSO (Austrian Sports Organisation) Rudolf Hundstorfer; Klaus Eberhartinger (Entertainer); Fritz Kristoferitsch (Bandleader Edlseer); Heather Mills; the Austrian skiers Conny Hütter and Christian Walder; former skiers Peter Wirnsberger, Reinfried Herbst, Marco Büchel, Emese Hunyady; and Harry Winkler, president of the Austrian Soccer “Bundesliga”; Hans Rinner and many more.

Following the Parade of Athletes, a tribute video for the late president of Special Olympics Austria, Hermann Kröll, highlighted his long-term commitment to Special Olympics and globalization of the movement. Kröll was instrumental in bringing the Special Olympics World Winter Games to Austria twice and was a constant champion to improving the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities. Dr. Timothy Shriver remembered Hermann Kröll saying, “There was the heartbeat of Special Olympics Austria and Styria and it was Hermann Kröll and we still hold Hermann Kröll as the heartbeat tonight.” He added, “Every Special Olympics athlete has a story to tell, of grit, determination and overcoming obstacles. There will be those who say exclude. There will be those who say our athletes don’t deserve a chance. Athletes, you know better.”

Following the lighting of the cauldron, the ceremony concluded with fireworks and performances by European megastar Helene Fischer and, two-time Grammy winner Jason Mraz accompanied by America's Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal performing “I'm yours” and “I won't give up” together with VanderWaal.

For photos from the Opening Ceremony, please visit our Flickr site.

About Special Olympics World Winter Games Austria 2017

Every two years, Special Olympics holds its flagship event, the World Games, demonstrating sports excellence, which promotes equality, respect and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities around the world. Transcending the boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, culture and religion, the world will come together to celebrate inclusion around the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Graz, Schladming-Rohrmoos and Ramsau, Austria 14 March – 25 March 2017.

More than 2,600 athletes and 1,000 coaches representing 105 countries, along with 10,000 volunteers and thousands more spectators, will participate in and watch exciting sports and community events. This is the second time Austria has hosted the World Winter Games, having also staged the event in 1993. Sports featured are Alpine Skiing, Cross Country Skiing, Figure Skating, Speed Skating, Floor Hockey, Floorball, Snowboarding, Snowshoeing, and Stick Shooting.