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Special Olympics Denmark Idrætsfestival 2024 Ignites Change

The Town of Frederikshavn opens its doors to the Nordic region's biggest multisport event for people with intellectual disabilities.
A woman wearing a red jersey jumping, holding a ball  colliding with a man on the opposing team, wearing a blue jersey
A shot from the handball tournament at the Special Olympics Denmark Idrætsfestival 2024..Photo by Niklas Thim.

With 1,200 participants, 12 sports disciplines and representation from seven countries, the Special Olympics Denmark Idrætsfestival 2024 has set a new benchmark for athletic excellence. From May 24 – 26, the picturesque town of Frederikshavn in northern Denmark staged the biggest multisport event for athletes with intellectual disabilities in the Nordic region.

Now in its 9th edition, the festival featured competitions in athletics, badminton, bocce, bowling, equestrian, floorball, football, golf, gymnastics, handball, swimming and table tennis. While designated as Special Olympics Denmark’s National Games, the event also attracted a significant number of international competitors from Special Olympics Finland, Special Olympics Faroe Islands, Special Olympics Germany, Special Olympics Iceland, Special Olympics Norway and Special Olympics Sweden, who played against and side-by-side with their Danish counterparts.

“Our hope is that this kind of event inspires people to practice sports,” commented Soren Jul Kristensen, Special Olympics Denmark National Director.
“To focus on their training before the event, that they are inspired to keep training when they go home, and that new people are inspired to start up.
“We try to place our National Games in different locations in Denmark each year. We hope to leave a legacy that will see more sports for people with ID locally, and more attention toward the target group.”

Beyond sports, significant expectations are placed on health as a crucial aspect of the event's legacy.

A woman, a man and a young man sitting around a table. The woman is holding an infographic about nutrition.
The Health Promotion panel at the Healthy Athletes Hub at the Special Olympics Denmark Idrætsfestival 2024 in Frederikshavn.

Statistics reveal that the lifespan of people with intellectual disabilities (ID) in Denmark is on average 20 years shorter than that of the general population. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Healthy Athletes program played a major role at the Special Olympics Denmark Idrætsfestival 2024.

The Arena Nord, the event's main hub, hosted four Special Olympics Healthy Athletes disciplines: FUNFitness, Health Promotion, Special Smiles and Opening Eyes.

Birgit Hansen, Mayor of Frederikshavn, showed great enthusiasm when attending the Healthy Athletes program and shared her commitment to improving medical standards for residents with intellectual disabilities. She highlighted the importance of providing a wide range of services covering various areas such as nutrition, dentistry, optometry, and mental health.

“We have a responsibility that is not over when these Games are over. We have to be more aware of [the needs of people with ID when it comes to] mental and physical health as a community. We share this responsibility with every individual, their parents, their friends and the people who work with and for them.”

Mayor Hansen also expressed her pride and joy in hosting such an important event in Frederikshavn, “We are not a particularly wealthy municipality, but we really try to create new opportunities for people with ID, and we can always do more. Hosting an event [like this] comes with a cost but, as for many questions in life, it’s a matter of priorities.”

A young man holding a torch running through a crowd of people clapping
Special Olympics Denmark handball player, Peter Larsen, carrying the torch at the Special Olympics Denmark Idrætsfestival 2024 Opening Ceremony in Frederikshavn.

Peter Larsen, a Special Olympics Denmark handball player from Frederikshavn, beamed with pride and joy as he took on the role of torch runner. This once-in-a-lifetime honor of representing both his country and his city at the National Games was deeply meaningful to the young handball champion, who proudly wore a shiny bronze medal around his neck.

“I feel proud and happy. I have been looking forward to [that moment] for a long time. When I ran into the hall with the torch, all the people were standing up. It was very emotional; I will always remember it.”

“I cried, and Peter cried. It was very, very touching”, added his coach, Tove Malmberg. Tears are almost shed at the mere memory of the moment, and it is only the runner-up for the title of “Best Moment” of this event in Peter’s book. The handball champion helped his team to victory with a last-minute goal during extra time in the final match, securing it as his Best Moment.

“Winning the match today is the best memory of these Games,” says Peter with sheer joy. “The tournament [has been] intense and very exciting. It’s amazing to be part of a team and win together because everybody works for one another.”

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