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Nothing But Love at the Opening Ceremony

Jafar Khaddour and Timothy Shriver
Athlete Jafar Khaddour gives Timothy Shriver a hug and pin from Syria during the Opening Ceremony.

Other global event staff would have tackled him.

Other Board Chairs would have been rattled.

But neither was the case at the Opening Ceremony for the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 held on 17 July at the Olympicstadion.

Special Olympics Syria athlete Jafar Khaddour has been training hard to compete in artistic gymnastics at this year’s Games and was excited when he made the national team. “It’s my first time to compete, and I hope to go back home with medals to show my family!”

As Khaddour stepped off the bus to join the other delegations waiting outside the stadium getting ready to take part in the Parade of Athletes, his excitement was mounting. Not only was he going to represent his country in front of a crowd of 50,000 plus millions more tuning into the international broadcast, he was also going to witness Special Olympics Board Chairman Timothy Shriver deliver a speech live.

Khaddour explained, “I love Tim so much, and I really wanted to go hug him and give him the Syrian pin as a gift.”

That is exactly what he did. Just as Shriver was inspiring the crowd with words about how the Berlin Wall stood for division rather than inclusion, Khaddour ran up the stage ramp, passed the Unity water pool and planted a kiss on Shriver’s cheek. In response, Shriver exclaimed, “I’m getting a hug” and then erupted in laughter.

The audience went wild clapping and cheering the impromptu and energetic gesture of affection from an athlete who traveled over 2,000 miles (3,500 km) to a man who, like his mother and founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, has become the face of the Special Olympics movement.

Moments like these are what set Special Olympics apart from other events. Alongside the will to win is the unbridled joy of the athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, family, supporters and organizers.

On 23 June, Khaddour will compete in the preliminary rounds for Men’s Level 1 floor exercises, horizontal bar, parallel bar, vaulting, rings and pommel house. Final rounds will be held on 24 June. Follow his progress and results on the Results Page.

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