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All-weather ice skating rinks a hope for Indian athletes
Eighteen-year-old Kiran Kalra glides out in the middle of an ice skating rink and performs a series of spins and loops that could match any ballerina. There's one big difference though -- she can hear hardly any of the music playing in the background because of her hearing impairment.

“I have taken some knocks and falls during the camp as it is my first exposure to ice skating. But I am determined to give my best," Kiran says, on the sidelines of the first ever natural ice skating rink on the outskirts of Delhi in Gurgaon's Ambience Mall. She is one among a batch of six athletes who would be representing India at the Special Olympics World Winter Games being held in South Korea from January 29 to February 5, the country's first ever team to take part in figure and speed skating on ice in the international event for children with disabilities.

Even the idea of taking part seemed like a distant dream only about six to seven months ago, as there are hardly any all-weather ice skating rinks in the country.  The idea was born when Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat (Delhi Chapter), Virender Kumar on a weekend while taking a stroll walked into the ice skating rink built by the privately-owned Bird group. “It struck me that maybe I could use this rink to build a team to participate in figure and ice skating as India's quota was going waste every World Winter Games,” Kumar said.

With active support of the Special Olympics India office, he has put together a team that is raring to compete with the world's best. “Obviously, we are on top of the world. It’s a sport that even normal people would find it difficult,” says Bhumika Shresta, whose brother Ashish would be taking part in speed skating.

Special Olympics Bharat had been participating in the World Winter Games since 1993, but only won a couple of medals for five of the games spanning 15 years because athletes lacked exposure to facilities needed for competitive winter sports such as indoor ice rinks.  The state of Himachal Pradesh in India took the lead in organizing winter games snow events in 2008, when after a year's training, the First National Winter Games were held in Narkanda with four sports- snowboarding, snow shoeing, alpine skiing and floor hockey.  It was largely due to this effort that for the first time a contingent from India ever of 45 athletes and coaches went to the World Winter Games in Idaho. This year the 79 strong contingent to the Games at Pyeong Chang is almost double that number.

It has not been an easy task. Participation in the snow events is to a large extent dependent on the vagaries of the weather. Sports like Figure skating and speed skating have to be organized at short notice when it snows.  Special Olympics Bharat is now partnering with the Mountaineering Institute at Solaghnala (Manali) where seven day camps are being organized for athletes and participation is invited from other states too to give them this training. Special Olympics Bharat hopes to extend this partnership to other Institutes in Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

Chairman of Special Olympics Bharat Air Marshall Denzil Keelor feels, “In 2009, after one year of training and preparation, a 64-member strong contingent participated in the World Winter Games at Idaho, USA. We fielded two floor hockey teams (one for girls and one for boys) and also participated in skiing, Snow Shoeing and Snow Board. The results - Boys Floor Hockey Team won a Gold, Girls Floor Hockey Team won a Silver and the snow sports team won 6 Gold, 7 Silver and 2 Bronze medals. Mallika and her team need to be congratulated for this. We hope to do as well, if no better, at the WWG in South Korea at the end of this month. I am grateful to the families of our athletes, Ministry of Sports, Government of India and IME, Ghaziabad/NCR for their support in helping us broaden our aim and to Fortis Foundation for providing medical screening for the athletes”.

Special Olympics Bharat organizes sports and competitions at various levels- local, district, state, national and international - based on abilities and performance of athletes across each level to participate at higher consecutive levels. Thus since sports remains the mainstay of the Special Olympics Program the capacity of the athletes are constantly developed through regular trainings and other initiatives that help strengthen the athletes- mentally , physically emotionally.

Special Olympics Bharat is an NGO registered under the Indian Trust Act in 2001 and accredited by Special Olympics International to conduct Special Olympics Programs all over India.

Special Olympics Bharat is recognized by the Government of India as a National Sports Federation in the Priority Category for the development of Sports for Persons with Intellectually Disability and has been designated as the Nodal Agency by the Government for all disabilities on account of its national presence, outreach and experience. Special Olympics Bharat works across all States and Union Territories in India.

Every two years, thousands of Special Olympics athletes worldwide come together to showcase their athletic skills and celebrate the spirit of Special Olympics. The first Special Olympic World Games took place in 1968 and since then has evolved into a world-class sporting event, attracting a wide range of sponsors, supporters and media. Alternating between Summer Games and Winter Games, Special Olympics World Games bring public attention to the talents and capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities, helping to change attitudes and break down barriers that excluded them from the mainstream of the community.

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