Our Athletes

Connecting Through Special Olympics: My Interview with the National Director of Special Olympics Russia

The Russian delegation at the Opening Ceremonies of the World Games in Abu Dhabi 2019.
Opening Ceremonies 2019 Summer World Games in Abu Dhabi Opening Ceremony at 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi.

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to interview a Special Olympics Japan employee about the pandemic, the differences between our cultures, and our experiences with Special Olympics. I loved the opportunity of doing this and wanted to do it again. I started to think about who I wanted to interview next. Then it was announced that Russia will host the next World Winter Games in 2022. I was really excited to learn that because I was born in Russia and was adopted when I was 3. Russia has always been interesting to me. I was really young, so I don’t remember it at all. Because of this, I thought it would be interesting to talk to someone from there and once again connect with someone from another culture through Special Olympics. I talked to Egor, the National Director of Special Olympics Russia. I asked him about his work with Special Olympics Russia, the World Games in 2022, and what it’s like to live there.

I was very interested in what Egor does as National Director, so that was the first thing I asked him. He told me that he’s been National Director for over a year and that he had been working with Special Olympics for seven years before that. Egor was working for the Ministry of Sports of the Russian Federation where he oversaw adaptive sports and that’s how he got involved with the Special Olympics movement. As National Director, Egor’s main task is to make sure Special Olympics Russia is running smoothly. He oversees national competitions and supports regional events, Young Athletes, Healthy Athletes, Unified Leadership, and many other Special Olympics programming. He also works with partners and government authorities. I find it very impressive that he does all this as one person. That’s a lot of things!

When asked what he liked most about his job, he said, “Working in Special Olympics Russia gives me moral satisfaction when I see how many people the Special Olympics movement is making happy and that is what makes me feel joyful and proud.” He also loves that Special Olympics “empowers everyone to express themselves through sport and training.” After we talked about the positives, I asked him what he found challenging. His answer surprised me. He said the biggest challenge was communicating to people who don’t understand Special Olympics and the philosophy of inclusion. But Egor doesn’t let it get to him. He tries to make the best out of it by helping them become supporters of Special Olympics.

A Special Olympics Russia speed skater stares ahead with determination.
MASLOV NIKITA, Russia, Short Track Speed Skating, at the Special Olympics Invitational Games Sweden 2020. Taking place from 1 to 4 February in Östersund and Åre, 300 athletes from over 20 countries are competing in seven sports. 200201 Foto: KARL NILSSON

Now after learning about Egor and what he does with Special Olympics, I wanted to learn more about Special Olympics Russia, so I asked him how it all started. He told me that Special Olympics Russia officially started in 1999, but 5 years before then, they had a couple of programs in a few cities. Egor wanted to emphasize “that in Russia, this movement received support from public organizations and local authorities,” which has also helped the success of Special Olympics Russia. By 1999, there were already 2,000 to 3,000 athletes participating!

Next we talked about Russia hosting the World Winter Games 2022. I asked him how it felt to be selected as host country because I think it’s a really huge deal to be selected. He felt the same as me and said it was a delight, and it made him proud. Their main focus right now is to host the Games at “the highest level.” Everything I’ve learned by interviewing Egor makes me believe that all of the athletes who participate will have a wonderful opportunity to make friends and compete at the highest level.

Lastly, we talked about what life is like in Ekaterinburg, a Russian city right between Europe and Asia. I was born there and wanted to know more about it. He said “Ekaterinburg is a very beautiful city. The Special Olympics movement is very developed in this city. The regional office actively works with athletes and has 19 sports, both summer and winter.” That’s really impressive that they have so many sports. It’s cool to know that both the place where I was born and the place I grew up in (Maryland) are so active in Special Olympics.

When asked for recommendations for visiting Russia, Egor said, “first of all, you should definitely take part in our sport events. Secondly, you should visit and walk around the Red Square, and third of course, to try the Russian pancakes.” The Red Square is a famous Moscow landmark. It sits between the Kremlin and a marketplace, and you can see the Basil Cathedral from it. It sounds like a fun place to visit. I hadn’t heard of Russian pancakes before, so I had to do some research. In Russian, they are called blini. They’re super thin and usually served with some kind of topping. I wouldn’t mind giving them a try. It was fun talking to Egor about Russia.

I appreciate that Egor took time from his busy schedule to give me such thoughtful and complete answers to all my questions. Knowing Egor’s responsibilities for Special Olympics Russia and his overall knowledge of Special Olympics, I’m excited to see what World Games will look like. It was great to connect with someone from the country where I was born but haven’t visited since then. Stay tuned for the next person I interview.

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