Armenian team left Dublin with five medals.
Four Armenians were among 7,000 mentally impaired
athletes who recently participated in the Special
Olympics in Dublin, Ireland.
The games were held June 21-29, with 159 countries
entered including Armenia's first-ever delegation.
Armenia's team was: Sergey Sahakyan, 17; Anna
Bulghadaryan, 14; Karine Gasparyan, 19; and Vahan
Babayan, 20. The Olympians returned with one gold
medal, three silver and one bronze.
But the real achievement might simply have been
in going there.
"Our children returned with pretty good results
and we are happy for our victory," says the
leader of the Special Olympics program in Armenia,
Artak Israelyan. "However, the core meaning
of this movement is participation and this was
our supreme victory."
While in Armenia it is still considered shameful
to be disabled and often parents keep such children
out of the public eye, the nine days in Ireland
put the Armenian young people in a spotlight.
"I couldn't hold my emotions when seeing
the special attention paid to the disabled,"
Israelyan says. "One should understand that
these children visit a very limited number of
places in their own town in their whole lives.
They couldn't believe they were standing in the
70,000-seat packed stadium in Dublin, where such
world stars as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mohammed
Ali and Nelson Mandela were present for the opening
While in Dublin, Israelyan asked Karine (who is
from Kapan) whether she would like to live in
such a place.
"For a moment I thought I would," the
teenager replied. "But when I realized that
I will be enjoying everything here and my friends
in Kapan will not, this wish disappeared."
The excitement of the trip was so great Israelyan
feared it would interfere with the athletes' performance.
"They were so excited they weren't able to
sleep at night," Israelyan says. "I
kept telling them to go to sleep, because the
next day was going to be even more promising."
The excitement had a different effect on Vahan
Babayan, as Isrealyan says he became homesick
and could not perform at his best and was the
only Armenian to not earn a medal. Still, he got
the rare chance to be among his peers in an accepting
first entry to Special Olympics included four
"We have to involve as many disabled from
Armenia as possible in such events, because this
improves their mental abilities," Israelyan
At present, Armenia doesn't have official statistics
regarding its mentally disabled. Instead, there
are some researches conducted by the Special Olympics
movement in Armenia, and according to them there
are around 100 disabled children in every region
of the Republic, and in Yerevan their number exceeds
"Of course this isn't a final figure, because
we are convinced there are parents who according
to the Armenian mentality hide such children both
from their relatives and from the society,"
Israelyan says. "Our goal is to find those
people and make them proper members of society."
Armenia, as other republics of the former Soviet
Union, first was allowed to participate in the
Special Olympics in 1990. The Government of Armenia
paid for the special athletes' trip to Dublin.
Israelyan is hopeful the program will continue
through grants. Though this was Armenia's first
participation, neighboring countries Azerbaijan
and Georgia have been in the Games regularly.
This year Georgia sent 45 athletes and Azerbaijan,
Progress is being made in Armenia for its disabled.
Today there are special athletic groups functioning
in Yerevan, Kapan and Vanadzor. And Armenia has
a football team, which participated in regional
competition in Georgia in April.
"It has been difficult, but we have managed
to budge the wagon," Israelyan says. "In
the beginning it seemed people here don't realize
the importance of the problem. But now I would
say the opposite. There are many caring people
volunteering for the organization and sharing
The Special Olympics Winter Games will take place
in Nagano, Japan in 2005, and Armenia has already
"We will try to avoid repetitions and take
other athletes there, because they are also impatient
to participate in this event," Israelyan
says. "The more people experience this joy,
the more involvement we have."