Thirty-four athletes with intellectual disabilities represented Israel in eight sports at the 2023 Special Olympics in Berlin. The team came home with 25 medals, the most it has garnered in its 30 years of participation in the Special Olympic Games.
This year’s Israeli participants competed in athletics, judo, swimming, cycling, tennis, table tennis, soccer and bowling, paired with opponents based on their level of disability.
In all, more than 7,000 athletes from 126 countries took part in this year’s Special Olympics, June 17-25.
The 25 medals included nine golds, eight silvers and eight bronzes, representing every discipline in which the team competed.
Several athletes earned more than one medal, such as runner Ron Beck, 16, who snagged a gold in the 3,000-meter men’s race, a silver in the 5,000-meter run and a bronze in the mixed 4x400m relay.
Mir Segel, winner of a gold medal in 100-meter freestyle swimming, said nothing could have prepared him for how it would feel to stand on the podium listening to Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” playing in his honor.
Segel, 28, is the caretaker of the therapeutic horse stable at ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran, part of an Israeli network of specialized rehabilitative care for those with disabilities. He is on the autism spectrum.
“I overcame obstacles and people viewing me as different,” said Segel after his Special Olympics win. “I was successful – I was able to conquer my fears, reach my goal, and also bring honor and pride to Israel. And it was fun!”