Highlights from the Special Olympics Unified Races at the 2020 X Games

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Far away from the E-Sports realm, in January, in the snow-shrouded mountains of Aspen, Colorado, the Special Olympics 2020 X Games took place. This event celebrates the athletic capabilities of disabled individuals, and allows them to vie for the gold in sports such as snowboarding and skiing.

The Special Olympics spans 193 countries, includes over five million athletes, and is made possible by over one million volunteers. With founding principles such as inclusion and teamwork, the organization is widely considered to be something special.

This year’s Special Olympics X Games, however, were even more so. Why do the 2020 X Games stand out over those of years past and other Olympic games?

New Ski Team was One for the Record Books

Last month in Colorado, history was made for the Special Olympics 2020 X Games. There was just one team, but that one team united people of both normal intellectual ability and those considered disabled.

The ski team, part of a Special Olympics division called Unified Sports (US), made its debut at the 2020 X Games in Aspen.

Unified Sports was streamlined into the professional winter sports games by pro snowboarder Hannah Teeter, who leaped at the opportunity to introduce more inclusion and change into the athletic world.

Since then, the success of the Unified Sports–X Games coalition has grown rapidly in its six years of existence.

Teeter described the union of Unified Sports and the X Games as “a dream come true,” one that reflects the world as it should be.

Why is Unified Sports so Important?

It displays sportsmanship and teamwork between Special Olympics (SO) athletes and professionals, and likewise encourages the same behavior on smaller athletic levels, such as in high schools.

The Unified ski competition consisted of six SO athlete–pro athlete duos.

The X games event pitted skier against skier in a nail-biter of a race down the slope. The ski times of the SO athletes were paired with their professional counterparts, and the team with the fastest time took home the gold.

Ski Team Scores

In the first-ever Unified Sports ski team event, Colorado based athlete Palmer Lyons, partnered with professional skier Gus Kenworthy, raked in the gold with a combined time of 31.23 seconds.

Lyons’ success might be credible to the fact that he’s been knee-deep in snow practically ever since he could stand; according to an event recap from the Special Olympics found here, the skier has been hitting the slopes since barely three years old.

Not far behind Lyons and Kenworthy’s lead, another American SO athlete Haldan Pranger and pro skier Alex Ferreira skirted into second with a total time of 32.83 seconds.

Bringing up the bottom tier of the top three winners in the Unified Sports ski game are USA SO skier Kohler Von Eschen with professional partner Sarah Hoefflin. The pair landed in third place with a time between the two of them of 34.71 seconds.

Here’s the rest of the stats for the duos who couldn’t quite stick the landing in the top half of the roster:

Fourth place: Andrew Carlson, USA SO, with David Wise: 35.10 seconds

Fifth place: Amanda Leonard, USA SO, with Cassie Sharp: 42.64 seconds

Sixth place: Andie Zitek, USA SO, with Maggie Voisin: 43.17 seconds

2020 Brings A Leap in Racial Diversity for the Special Olympics

More inclusivity is always something to be celebrated, and that’s just what the Special Olympics is all about, right?

Well, the event can add one more first-ever to its record: for the first time in Special Olympics history, an African American athlete has competed in the Winter X Games SO Competition.

Latrice Pringle hails from South Carolina and brought the thunder to the Unified Snowboarding Competition. She narrowly missed last place, coming in at 9th place out of ten teams, but she has still broken ground as the first representative of the intellectually disabled African American community to compete.

Performance from the Rest of the Snowboarder Lineup

Pringle saw some tough competition to beat from her fellow snowboarders this year, with the first place athlete securing a time almost ten seconds faster than Pringle. Here’s how the groundbreaking SO boarder stacked up with the rest of her team:

Washington-based Special Olympics athlete Daina Shilts slid smoothly into first with her professional partner Mike Schultz; the pair can show off a gold medal ranking and an impressive combined time of 35.76 seconds.

Shilts has an impressive track record in the Special Olympics X Games, now carrying four medals. Her partner Schultz is no stranger to the winners’ circle either, carrying a coveted record of having the most adaptive gold medals in X Games history.

Russian SO boarder Dmitrii Tiufiakov may have torn up some serious powder, but it wasn’t enough to steal that lead from Shilts, so he and pro boarder Danny Davis snuck into second with their collaborative time of 36.02 seconds.

Henry Meece, an Oregon based Special Olympics athlete, is a veteran to the Unified Snowboarding X Games who had been hoping to break a personal record by snatching up his 5th gold medal.

No such luck for Meece, however, but he did settle into a modest third place with pro winter athlete Jack Mitrani. If the team could have shaved just .02 seconds off of their 36.04 second time, they would have denied the Tiufiakov and Davis team their silver medal ranking.

You can view the states of the rest of the Unified Sports X Games snowboarding teams’ stats below:

Fourth place: Dustin Hollister, Vermont SO, with Hannah Teter: 37.05 seconds

Fifth place: Cody Field, Colorado SO, with Kevin Pearce: 38.21 seconds

Sixth place: Gonzalo Escobar Wernli, Chile SO, with Scotty Lago: 40.40 seconds

Seventh place: Micol Jarmolinski, Argentina SO, with Gretchen Bleiler: 42.00 seconds

Eighth place: Julia Burger, Germany SO, with Anna Gasser: 43.57 seconds

Ninth place: Latrice Pringle, South Carolina SO, with Chris Klug: 43.63 seconds

Tenth place: Natsuki Ikemoto, Japan SO, with Kokomo Murase: 47.79 seconds

Overall, Special Olympics Continues to Strive for Sportsmanship and Inclusion

While everyone likes a bit of friendly competition, the gold medals and the first place titles aren’t what the Special Olympics and the Unified Sports are all about.

The games and the events help establish confidence in individuals who might not otherwise get to compete in such sports on a traditional level. It encourages people with disabilities to have faith in themselves and unlock their potential in an outlet that they love.

Through the partnerships made by Unified Sports, winter sport enthusiasts in the Special Olympics can learn about the games they enjoy from accomplished athletes.

Without a doubt, those professional athletes are taught a thing or two by the remarkable people that make up the teams of Unified Sports.

Brady Smith

Brady Smith

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