Sun, 25 May 2003

RI boys ready for Special Olympics

Novan Iman Santosa, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A mental handicap should by no means keep a person from competing, striving and exploring their own capabilities, as Amos Berry Selly, Michael Rosihan Jacob, Eko Robby Raharjo and I Putu Sarwada are out to prove.

The four boys, instead of hanging around the mall like many teenagers, are undergoing heavy training under the watchful eyes of their coaches at the Special Olympics Indonesia (SOI).

The four will represent Indonesia at the 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Dublin from June 21 to June 29.

Amos, 17, will compete in the 100-meter and 200-meter dash. Michael, 13, will compete in the 50-meter dash and the softball throw, while Eko, 14, will take part in the 25-meter dash and the long jump. The fourth athlete, Putu, 19, who is training in Semarang before joining his friends in Jakarta, will run in the 400m and 800m events.

The athletes will be accompanied to Ireland by delegation head Iskandar Z. Adisapoetra and coach Amran Effendi Siregar, where they will join some 7,000 other handicapped athletes from all over the world.

Of the four, Amos, who won gold in the 100m and silver in the 200m at the 1999 World Summer Games in North Carolina, looks to have the best chance of winning a medal in Dublin.

"My best time for the 100m is 11.3 seconds. I'll give it my best shot at the Games to improve my time," Amos told The Jakarta Post during a training session at the Yolanda Soemarno Tennis Camp on Jl. Fatmawati in South Jakarta, last Sunday.

Amos is also currently training to represent Jakarta at the 2004 National Games in Palembang, South Sumatra.

Indonesia first participated in the 1991 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Minnesota, and has participated in the quadrennial event ever since.

This year's Dublin Games are the first time the event will be held outside the United States since its inception in 1968.

The Special Olympics movement was founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver -- sister of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy -- who believed that people with mental disabilities could take part and benefit from competitive sports.

Iskandar said the main benefit the athletes received from taking part in the Special Olympics was the feeling of belonging to a community.

"Their participation will give them a sense of togetherness, as they can meet Special Olympic athletes from other countries. They will see that they're not alone.

"On the other hand, the Special Olympic athletes can prove to the world that they can also do what other people can in sports," he said.

Competing at the World Summer Games, according to Iskandar, is also a way to evaluate the Special Olympics programs that have been carried out in Indonesia over the last four years.

"By taking part in sports, children with mental handicaps can improve their lives, their physical fitness as well as their confidence and independence," he said.

The Special Olympic athletes will compete with different regulations.

"Not only do we differentiate them by sex and age but also by the level of their abilities. This is called divisioning," Amran said. "There are four age-groups -- beginner (eight to 11 years old), junior (12-15), senior (16-21) and master (22 and above)."

Athletes in each age-group will then be divided into several categories based on their ability. A faster runner, for example, will not be grouped with slower ones, and so on. A division is made up of at least three athletes and a maximum of eight.

"In addition to the usual gold, silver and bronze medals, other athletes will get colored ribbons to mark their accomplishment," said Amran.

He pointed to the Special Olympics oath, which encourages the athletes to do their best. "Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

"We are not talking about defeating other athletes, but rather showing to everyone that mentally handicapped athletes are also capable of doing things," Amran said. "I would say it's more of an individual achievement rather than a pure competition."

Indonesia was lucky to escape the fate of Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam, all of which were barred by the Irish government from taking part in the Games due to fears over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The decision to bar the countries was strongly criticized by Mary Davis, chief executive of the World Summer Games' organizing committee.

However, two weeks from now the four Indonesian athletes will fly to Dublin. Let us hope that Amos and friends will be the new Loretta Claiborne, an outstanding Special Olympics athlete who won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 1996.

Let us also hope that their participation in the Games will open our eyes to the fact that the mentally handicapped are capable of doing many things.