Dubai: Abdul Rahman Bouri, a Special Olympics athlete from Syria, couldn’t hold back his happiness when he saw thousands of his fellow athletes at the closing ceremony of Dubai’s Special Olympics Host Town Programme in Global Village on Sunday.
The 25-year-old judoka, who has Down’s Syndrome, was hugging everyone he met at the event, which was attended by over 4,000 athletes from 51 nations. “He feels so great to be here in Dubai,” said Duha Sabbagh, who was translating for Bouri. “He liked the music and dance show here.”
Like Bouri, she said many of her athletes had Down’s Syndrome.
“Syria has many problems, but, we don’t care,” she said. “We have coaching centres for these talented People of Determination.
“We need to continue training and supporting them.
“We want to win the gold medal and to live in peace again, that is our hope for tomorrow.”
Seeing all the athletes in one place ahead of the Games was a great experience, she said.
“They are all excited.”
Meanwhile, the American volleyball team was all praise for Emirati cuisine, culture and hospitality.
“I loved the coffee and dates here, they are really good,” said Katia Rios-Lazo from the US team.
Fellow US athlete Storm Curtis said he also loved the warm welcome he had received.
“It’s a city that I have never been to,” he said. “I loved the people and their hospitality. There is also a lot of food here.”
Indian sprinter Aparimita Singh, and compatriot Boccia player Pooja Shankar, are also on their first trip to the city and said they loved it.
“We want to come back here,” said Singh.
Meanwhile Cuban interpreter Maria Gonzalez, said her team enjoyed sightseeing trips around the city and a visit to a local school where they raced with students. Visits to local schools and landmarks are all part of the Host Town Programme, which pairs athletes with the community, who then adopt and support them for the duration of the tournament.
Ready for the games
Cuban swimmer Yurisnel Rojas Reynaldo, gave students who were visited by athletes the following advice ahead of the Games.
“Always be positive, train yourself well, take us as examples and never give up,” he said.
Gonzalez, who flew in with her national team as a volunteer, said the only challenge the special athletes with intellectual disabilities face is communication.
“They can’t express themselves. They are nervous and anxious sometimes. But they are ready for the games,” she said.
The confidence was evident on the face of Cuban weightlifter Yoandy Beltran Delgado, who will compete in the 83kg weight class. “I am going to get the gold for Cuba,” he said.
Michelle Angel Athenas, powerlifting athlete from the US also made a powerful statement. “On March 17, I will be the strongest player in history,” Athenas said.
Several athletes and volunteers were seen enjoying the cultural performances at Global Village by dancing and singing along with the performers.
The festivities organised for the athletes by the Executive Council of Dubai culminated in a special fireworks display.