Remarks: 1972 World Games

Eunice Kennedy Shriver


Special Olympics

Opening Message

Opening Ceremonies

UCLA - Los Angeles, California

August 14, 1972

Parents, Volunteers, Friends!

Welcome to the Special Olympic Games. And to you young athletes, congratulations. How we all wish we could perform like you will during these two days of your meet. You will run faster, jump higher and throw further than most of us in the stands dream of doing. You are true champions and we are proud of you.

In these days of commercialism, when great athletes compete for gold as well as glory, we've almost forgotten the real meaning of sports. Sports as play. Sports as grace. Sports as character. Baron de Coubertin, father of the Modern Olympics, put it this way: "The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."

Nowhere do brave young athletes fight as well as in the Special Olympics. Like the young girl from Tennessee with an artificial leg who courageously entered her event, the long jump - and won. Like the boy from Colorado who ran his 300 yard dash on crutches. Like the blind boy from California who followed the voice of his coach to the finish line.

Special Olympics teaches us all that athletics is more than mere physical ability in running, swimming or throwing a ball. Most animals can excel man in speed and stamina. Machines can lift greater weights or throw objects much further. In sports, the real value of the achievement lies in overcoming the odds against success. We are pleased when we read of a record being broken, but we are even more thrilled when some athlete has made a gallant attempt even when he fails. The athletes we remember most fondly are not the flawless, mechanical performers but the great human beings who have reached beyond themselves to achieve some glorious goal.

We think of Pancho Gonzales, who overcame poverty and prejudice to become a world tennis champion.

We think of George Foreman, a graduate of Poverty Program's Job Corps, who was an Olympics gold medalist in boxing and is now a leading heavy weight contender.

We think of Glenn Cunningham, the Olympic miler, who was so severely burned in childhood they said he'd never walk again.

We think of Ben Hogan, the golfer who came back from a crippling automobile accident to win his greatest matches.

And when we look at this list of magnificent competitors, we must add the names of all you boys and girls who compete in the Special Olympics. You have proved to all of us what the human spirit can do when it is encouraged and given the chance. You, as much as any athletes in history, prove what Baron Coubertin said - that the Olympics "brings together in radiant union all the qualities which guide mankind to perfection."