Snowboard star Su Yiming becomes new Special Olympics ambassador


SHANGHAI — The Special Olympics Committee has announced that Su Yiming, the Chinese snowboarding star who won gold at the Beijing Winter Olympics, will be its new ambassador for East Asia.

Special Olympics is an international sporting event for people with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and developmental delays. Like the Olympics and Paralympics, Special Olympics alternates between summer and winter games every two years. The next edition will be summer games – to be held in Berlin, Germany, in June 2023 – after this year’s World Winter Games in Kazan, Russia, have been canceled because of the war in Ukraine.

The appointment of Su, one of China’s stars in the Winter Olympics, will help attract more young people to China to learn more about the Special Olympics and join Unified Sports – a program that enables shared sports training and competition between people with and without intellectual disabilities to promote social inclusion, Shi Derong, a board member of the Special Olympics Committee, said at a Saturday press conference.

Su told reporters that he felt lucky to have achieved his Olympic dream through hard work and everyone had a dream worth achieving. “Special Olympics encourages us to be friends with people with intellectual disabilities and to motivate each other,” he said. “We can all feel the true charm of sport and allow more people to feel equal and united while chasing their dreams.”

Su Yiming (R), China’s new Special Olympics Ambassador, poses for a photo with Li Xiang (L), a Special Olympics athlete, and Li’s younger brother, in Shanghai on August 14, 2022 Courtesy of the Special Olympics Committee

Li Na, the former tennis star who serves as a Special Olympics Global Ambassador, also attended the event announcing Su’s appointment, presenting the snowboarder with an ambassador certificate.

China has more than 1 million people with Down syndrome, and each year that number increases by 25,000, according to a 2012 report from the country’s health authorities. At least 2 million Chinese children aged 12 or younger are estimated to have autism spectrum disorders.

Shanghai hosted the first Asia-Pacific Special Olympics in 1996, followed by the World Summer Games in 2007.

For Yang Jianying, whose son, Li Xiang, won a bronze medal in short track speed skating at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, the events provide people with intellectual disabilities an invaluable opportunity to learn, interact socially and gain confidence. They are also making a real difference in terms of promoting inclusiveness in Chinese society, she added.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has been a blow to Special Olympics athletes, according to Yang. Almost every major competition has been postponed or canceled during the crisis, leaving parents like her worried about how they can continue to motivate their children to keep training.

Li had hoped to compete in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Kazan in 2022, but the cancellation has left his sports career in limbo. The 18-year-old is due to graduate from high school next year, and his mother fears it will be difficult to sign him up for future events without his status as a member of their school team.

“Since March, Li has been taking online classes at home. She misses her classmates terribly,” Yang told Sixth Tone. “To keep him fit, we have to train alone at home.”

Publisher: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: Former tennis star and Special Olympics Global Ambassador Li Na (left) presents Su Yiming with a signed tennis racket, Shanghai, August 14, 2022. Courtesy of the Special Olympics Committee)

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