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NEW DELHI :

They played and competed against athletes from more than 160 countries, and came back with 173 medals. This was India’s incredibly joyous story from the 2015 Special Olympics, which ended on 2 August at Los Angeles, US, after a week of games.

The Special Olympics, meant for people with intellectual disabilities, have been held since 1968.

Some 6,500 athletes took part in contests ranging from weightlifting and athletics, to football and golf. India’s 173 medals put the country behind only the US and China, a feat that is even more impressive in light of the fact that the infrastructure and attitude towards both disability and sport in India is—to put it mildly—backward.

The Indian contingent was made up of 275 athletes and coaches in 14 disciplines. They won 47 gold, 54 silver and 72 bronze medals. Athletics and roller skating brought in a big chunk of the medals—the roller skaters won 39 of them, including 10 gold.

Some of the gold medallists include 14-year-old Ranveer Singh Saini, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 and picked up golf as a therapeutic tool at the age of 9. The Indian Golf Union, the apex body of the sport, backed Saini’s passion for golf, providing him with a coach and training facilities.

13-year old Ishant Tudeja bagged a gold and silver medal in roller skating. Photo: HT
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13-year old Ishant Tudeja bagged a gold and silver medal in roller skating. Photo: HT

Two years ago, Saini became the first Indian golfer to win two gold medals at the Asia Pacific World Games.

Ten of the athletes in the Indian team came from the Delhi government-run Asha Kiran Home; between them, they won seven medals. Phoolan Devi, 17, who won one gold and three bronze medals in powerlifting, was abandoned on the streets of New Delhi when she was 16, and was moved to the Home by the police. Then there is Rajvir Singh, the son of a casual labourer from Punjab, who won two gold medals in cycling events. And Kushal Resam from Goa, who won two golds and a bronze in roller skating.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Indian team, tweeting: “Achievements of Indian contingent at @LA2015 @SpecialOlympics are truly gladdening. They are India’s pride.

“The @LA2015 @SpecialOlympics were a triumph of determination, hardwork & sportsman spirit. Congratulations to all athletes who participated."

India had won 156 medals—56 gold, 48 silver and 52 bronze—in the last edition of the games, held in Athens, Greece, in 2011.

The 2015 games opened and closed at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the venue of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. Away from the competitions, thousands of athletes lined up at a medical centre at the University of Southern California for the games’ Healthy Athletes programme. Before it ended, more than 500 people, including some who could not hear at all, had received hearing aids. More than 600 received new prescription glasses and more than 4,000 got new shoes.

The Special Olympics, which began in 1968, was the brainchild of former US president John F. Kennedy’s sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver. That first year’s games in Chicago drew about 1,000 athletes from 26 American states and Canada. PTI & AP

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