Why This Event Could Be L.A.'s Biggest Sports Spectacle Since the 1984 Olympics
This story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
For Maria Shriver, the Special Olympics are more than a way for disabled kids from around the world to build confidence and self-esteem on the playing field. They're also a family tradition. Her mother, Eunice Shriver, who died in 2009 at age 88, launched the Games way back in 1968. "She's very much alive in this movement," says Shriver. "Many people joined the movement because she asked them to get involved. Or demanded."
Next summer, the Games come to Los Angeles in what could turn out to be the biggest citywide sports event since the mainstream Olympics came to L.A. in 1984. About 500,000 spectators are expected to turn out, with millions more viewing on ESPN.
"We are a media capital of the world," says Rob Friedman, who will be chairing the L.A. Special Olympics (his day job is co-chair of Lionsgate Motion Pictures). One of the reasons he got involved, he says, was knowing a child with Down syndrome when he was growing up: "He was part of our crew."
Friedman adds that "the awareness that will be derived from the Games here in L.A. will be extraordinary." And he estimates the Special Olympics will bring the city about $400 million in tourism and other economic benefits. But that's not why the city should be happy to be hosting, according to Shriver. "People say that in L.A., they're only interested in glitz and glam," she tells THR. "[The L.A. Games] are going to be an opportunity to show that it really is a City of Angels."
One former Special Olympian who definitely will be watching is 22-year-old Caley Versfeld, who has Down syndrome. Swimming in the 2004 Games when she was 9 years old didn't just win her a bunch of medals — it made all the difference in her life. "It really helped me overcome everything that I went through," she says. "Special Olympics makes you a better you."
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