Special Olympics World Games: The link between India and San Marino

Despite San Marino being one of the world’s smallest countries, with a population of just around 34,000, it has five women gymnasts with intellectual disabilities with Italy having just one.

The Indian volleyball men's team in action at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi.   -  Special Arrangement

Federica Spada came down from Italy to San Marino because she could not find many gymnasts with intellectual disabilities to coach in her country.

“There was only one such gymnast back home,” said the young coach, a decent gymnast a few years ago, on the sidelines of the Special Olympic World Games at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

“But we have five gymnasts in the women’s section alone here.”

That is surprising because San Marino is one of the world’s smallest countries, with a population of just around 34,000.

“One of the biggest problems with these athletes is their poor grasping power. It is often difficult for them to remember the exercises. Sometimes, on the beam, they forget what to do next,” explained Federica.

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Interestingly, that is also the link that connects India, whose population is one of the world’s biggest, with San Marino.

“The grasping power of these athletes is very low. The things which we understand in two attempts, we have to go for 10 attempts for them to get a grasp of things,” said Abhay Arjun Gaonkar, the coach of the Indian men’s volleyball team which defeated the USA 2-1 on Saturday.

“If there is a break of about 15 days after a training session, they forget everything. We have to start from scratch. We often have athletes telling us, ‘I did this last time but I cannot do it now’. While playing also, it is a bit difficult to communicate with them, to convey things.”

Dr. Khaled Kadry, the Regional Clinical Advisor for the ‘Strong Minds’ programme at the World Games here which helps athletes with intellectual disabilities overcome their many hurdles, offers a few suggestions to cope up with the problem.

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“As you can imagine, ‘people of determination’…it’s a very broad term: you get athletes who are high-functioning, they hold jobs, are married and have children and then you have athletes who are affected more, they need significant amount of support,” said Khaled, a former captain of the Egyptian judo team and now a leading psychiatrist in the UAE, on Saturday.

“The trick in getting people to remember things is to get an understanding of what their ability is, where their capability is, then pitch in the message that you want to give at the right level."

“Once they have understood that, there are lots of very practical techniques that you can use, like visual aids, prompts and certain routines.”

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