THE SIXTY-FOUR TT athletes who competed at the World Special Olympics Summer Games in Los Angeles came away with far more than medals and ribbons. That was the view of Ferdinand Bibby, National Director for the TT Special Olympics (SOTT) as he spoke exclusively with Newsday on his return with the second half of the TT contingent on Monday night.

Bibby said the LA experience met the objectives of the movement’s mission statement.

“That’s one of the aims — to express joy to the athletes,” he said, as they reunited with their loved ones in the Arrivals lounge at the Piarco International Airport. “Special Olympics always brings out joy.

So while there was competition, you would see athletes, after they compete, hug each other, give each other high-fives; and when they go back to the games village they would be talking to each other, exchanging pins. There was always the element of celebration — celebrating the achievements of the athletes, as well as their performances, whether it was gold or ribbon performance.” TT earned 48 medals, including 15 gold and nine silver. Asked what moments in competition stood out, Bibby responded, “We try to celebrate all the athletes’ achievements and to stay way from elitism. But when you look at Joanna Piango (English Equitation) as well as Alicia Khan (Bocce) who are two of the younger athletes in the group, and their ability to go out there and perform at the high level, that would be something to look forward to for the future.” Among TT’s major successes was the triumphant seven-a-side football team, which defeated Barbados 2-1 in the gold medal game.

The captain, Devant Mahadeo said his players had been confident they would go one better than their silver medal performance in 2011, adding that their greatest challenge had come earlier in the competition.

“Hong Kong,” he said, with a smile. “But we win them (4-2).

They gave us a great fight.” Away from the competition, the Games organisers managed to provide more than just an enjoyable atmosphere for almost 7,000 athletes.

“In the USA campus alone there were 5,000 athletes, and in each campus there was a games village, where the athletes were encouraged to mingle, they were encouraged to experience the various cultures,” Bibby said.

Describing the facilities at the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) as state-of-theart, he singled out the Healthy Athletes facility for special mention.

“Many of the persons with intellectual disabilities have health issues, whether it is their physical health. So part of Special Olympics is offering healthy athlete screening where they are screened for vision, they are screened for dental work, they are screened for nutrition, and given advice. “One of the features also was that each athlete was given a pair of sneakers — 7,000 athletes given a pair of New Balance sneakers on being screened for their healthy feet in the Healthy Athlete campaign. So besides competition, it was also about the athletes’ welfare.” Bibby praised the TT coaches and assistants, noting that they were all volunteers. “So they did it for the love of the athlete, for the interaction, the sense of pride when you would have trained someone and see them perform and achieve at the highest level.” On a parting note, the National Director made a plug for better training facilities for the special athletes and greater exposure to competition. “We always say at Special Olympics, access means more than a ramp or an elevator; it means access to opportunities, access to funding, access to a sporting space where the national governing bodies could offer a vision or a grouping or a category for their national events, because some of our athletes only compete once a year,” he said. “So that with regular access to competition, you would see a greater achievement in performance.” The dates and venue for the XV Summer Games (2019) will be announced at the Winter Games in Austria (2017).