He may have lost his spot running the half-marathon, but top sprinter Michael Destouche from Dominica doesn’t mind; he is still certain he will don “gold” and stand on the tallest podium after competing in the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 (LA2015).
“I’m ready for the games and I’m very excited to be here. It’s my first time in this country and it’s beautiful,” said Destouche. “I’m a sprinter and I’m running the 50- and 100- meter races. We practice every day–Saturday and after work, so I’m looking forward to competing. Last year I did the half-marathon and came in first. I’m not doing it this year because I’m getting old. I’m 48 now. The short run is better for me.”
Destouche was one of 58 athletes and 36 of their coaches, interpreters and others supporting five Special Olympics delegations that stayed in California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) University Housing July 21-24. The university served as a primary partner for the City of Carson’s designation as an LA2015 “Host Town.”
The campus provided the perfect base for the five delegations, which traveled from their home countries of Dominica, Palestine, Turkmenistan, Syria and Mali to practice, enjoy entertainment and check out the sites in Carson. They joined the more than 6,500 intellectually challenged adult competitors from 165 countries in Host Town communities throughout Southern California.
After a trip to Carson’s South Bay Pavilion on Wednesday, July 22, the athletes returned to campus for a tour of the VELO Sports Center in the StubHub Center complex on campus. Like the Special Olympics athletes, the university housed international athletes for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and the original Olympic Velodrome at CSUDH was built where the StubHub Center stands today to provide the cycling venue for the games.
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That evening, CSUDH President Willie J. Hagan declared the World Games athletes “honorary Toros” during the City of Carson’s “Welcome Reception” in the Juanita Millender-McDonald Community Center. He also presented them with gifts that are “only handed out on special occasions.”
“This is an important occasion in the life of these athletes, an important occasion in the life of this city and in the life of our university. Nothing good is ever achieved without hard work and diligence, and the athletes here tonight would not be here if it wasn’t for what they’ve accomplished,” said Hagan. “I believe events like the Special Olympics, the World Cup, the Tour de France–all kinds of international events–that bring together athletes from throughout the world represent the ideals that we would hope to see in the rest of the world: competition with friendship, competition with respect, and fierce competition with the absence of the politics that usually accompanied them.”
While waiting for the Welcome Reception to begin, Palestinian track and field athlete Shadi Shadid, who is competing in the long jump and 100-meter race, made a bold prediction for the games and shared views regarding his sport.
“The long jump is harder–the running part is hard,” said Shadid, who had enjoyed his time in Carson, calling the city “beautiful.” “I think I’ll get the gold medal in the 100 meters [during the games] because I won in festivals in Palestine.”
On Thursday, July 23, the athletes’ schedule was just as packed as the previous day. Early that morning the five teams spread throughout CSUDH’s athletic venues to practice their sports with their coaches and delegation coordinators, who also served as interpreters for the athletes and coaches.
“The Mali athletes have really enjoyed being here on campus and in Los Angeles,” said Ann Clark-Tyler, the delegation liaison and interpreter for the French-speaking West African team from Mali. “The team hasn’t complained one bit, even after they arrived in L.A. way behind schedule and very early in the morning. They are just wonderful people who are up for everything.”
Marouf Shatara, the Palestine athletics coach, discussed how his delegation prepared for the World Games. The team registered to compete in 12 sports, including badminton and bocce, which he was coaching during practice.
“We have prepared ourselves well. We’ve got good training camps in Palestine, and we have some really good contenders on our team, especially in bocce,” he said. “We have several champions–two are boys and two are girls. They won competitions in Palestine and were regional champions. They also won in Egypt. Today we’re just warming up for competition.”
After practice, the athletes regrouped at University Housing for lunch and to rest before a day filled with exciting excursions, which included an up-close landing of the Goodyear Blimp and tour of its facility that was organized by the City of Carson, before attending a Polynesian luau back on campus.
As they relaxed during lunch and enjoyed some American comfort food off the Fatburger catering truck, university alumna, world record holder and Olympic Gold medalist Carmelita Jeter stopped by to meet them. Known as “The Jet,” Jeter has won three Olympic medals. While anchoring the U.S. track and field Olympic team in the 4X100-meter relay at the 2012 London games, she squashed the old world record by half a second, which enabled the team take home the gold.
Jeter participated in the World Games Opening Ceremony and will pass out awards when the games close.
“First and foremost, I came out today because I am a Toro. I’m always happy to get involved with anything Cal State Dominguez Hills is doing. But I really wanted to come so they could see the Olympian I am and so I could see the Olympians they are,” said Jeter. “This is my first time ever being part of the Special Olympics, so I’m really excited because I want to see other Olympians do just as well as I have.”
The athletes were inspired as they got to know Jeter while posing for photos with her.
“I’m so good at my sport because I like it. Training is very good for me. I’m excited to play my sport in front of many people,” said Mali sprinter Salimata Diawara.
All five Special Olympics delegations left CSUDH the morning of July 24 to participate in the World Games’ Opening Ceremony that afternoon at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was televised on ESPN.