The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games opened in Seattle in spectacular fashion on a beautiful Sunday afternoon on July 1 with roughly 40,000 fans filling Husky Stadium at the University of Washington.
Special Olympics Wisconsin and 4,000 other competitors were entertained by the likes of DJ Marshmello, Allen Stone and Charlie Puth. SOWI Hall of Fame athlete Cindy Bentley helped start the ceremony with some inspirational words standing alongside the host for the evening, acclaimed actor and singer Taye Diggs.
Day 1 of competition at the Special Olympics USA Games brought lots of intensity and several early-week medals for Team Wisconsin. Team Wisconsin bowlers picked up four day-one medals. Brooklyn Kolff of Janesville and Jacob Wilson of La Crosse scored golds right out of the gate in their individual events, while Brianna Paulson of Clear Lake nabbed a silver. Krista Hinckley of New Glarus had a powerful response on the medal stand when she accepted her bronze.
Jarod Falk kicked things off for Team Wisconsin at the King County Aquatic Center with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in his 200-meter freestyle swim. As the first Team Wisconsin swimmer of the day, his impressive gold-medal race set the tone for the day. Each of the six swimmers who competed on Monday medaled. Steve Woodard joined Jarod at the top of the podium when he earned a gold medal by swimming a personal record in the 50-meter breaststroke.
Competition continued on Tuesday as all 14 of the sports being showcased in the Games were in full swing and over 15,000 fans were gathered in venues across the Puget Sound region to cheer on the athletes.
Team Wisconsin continued to have fun and pick up hardware. At Kenmore Lanes, Brian Ruby and David Thompson picked up a silver medal in doubles, just missing out on the gold by two combined points. Krista Hinckley and Jacob Wilson both picked up their second medal of the week when they teamed up for a silver in mixed doubles. Brooklyn Kolff and Garet Ziegler also teamed up for a silver in mixed doubles.
Team Wisconsin continued to perform well across the Greater Seattle area during their Fourth of July competitions at the Games. Perhaps the story of the day was one of redemption for two athletes who the previous day were disqualified in events they thought they had won.
At the King County Aquatic Center, Sofia Walhovd of Portage found redemption when she just edged out Megan McCormick of Kentucky in a dramatic 100-meter freestyle finish. This came after Sofia thought she had won the 100-meter breaststroke a day earlier by a large margin only to be notified later that she had been disqualified.
In a similar fashion, at the Husky Track Stadium, Nick Nawrocki of Verona thought he had won gold by a large margin Tuesday in the 800-meter walk only to find out he was disqualified. But Nick found redemption in Wednesday’s 400-meter gold medal victory. He again outpaced the competition by a large margin.
Thursday’s action was intense as pool play in team sports gave way to the medal rounds. The highlight of the day was in Unified soccer, where Team Wisconsin faced Colorado for gold in their division. It was a bittersweet matchup for the two teams. They had bonded nicely during the tournament and had all become good friends.
But somebody had to take the gold and on this day it would be Team Wisconsin. Despite a late goal by Colorado that cut the deficit to one score and put everyone on the edge of their seats, Team Wisconsin prevailed 3-2.
Friday marked the final day of Special Olympics USA Games action and many of the week’s events had already wrapped up, making for a much less crowded University of Washington campus.
The highlight of the day was in basketball where Team Wisconsin played a rematch against Maryland for the gold medal. Because many sports had already completed competition, both teams had large crowds in attendance for the game at the Alaska Airlines Arena, where the University of Washington basketball teams play their games. Team Wisconsin came out strong early under the bright lights of the 10,000-seat arena, taking a lead into half.
But Maryland stormed back after the break, quickly making up ground when a couple of their players caught fire from the three-point range at just the right time. The intensity of the players, coaches and fans alike continued right up to the buzzer, when the final score showed 31-26 favoring Maryland.