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Not just for us: Beyond sport

Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 - Closing Ceremony

The Special Olympic World Games have just drawn to a close in Berlin. 6,500 athletes with intellectual and multiple disabilities from 176 nations took part in Berlin – this was the biggest German multi-sport event since the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. A total of 4,002 medals were presented at 1,334 award ceremonies. The competitions were held at various locations throughout Berlin, similar to the Special Olympics Festival that accompanied the World Games and offered a wide variety of inclusive and cultural activities and events. Artist and goalkeeper Sol Rein-Saunders also performed here and we were lucky enough to interview her on the sidelines of the World Games, which is about far more than just sport.

As sports flooring specialists, we and our sister company SYNLawn championed these days in Berlin as “Official Supporters”. It goes without saying that we’re proud that some of the competitions were held on Polytan flooring, such as the athletics running disciplines in the Hanns Braun Stadium that were run on Rekortan M in Hertha blue. For example, Jamaican runner Kirk Wint won a gold medal on the track, despite not running on legs at all. In the 50-metre sprint, he competed using a style he developed out of necessity: He runs on his hands and knees. Why? His parents couldn’t afford a wheelchair for their walking-impaired child, and he also had an intellectual impairment. So he learned to get around differently from an early age. Nobody was faster than him in Berlin.

In contrast, futsal was played on LigaTurf Cross synthetic turf at the August Beer pitches. And various Polytan surfaces have been in use at the Hockey Stadion Berlin for many years and continue to impress with their outstanding quality.

Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 - Futsal

Jan Lauterbach, Regional Manager of Polytan’s Berlin branch, sums up the big event for us: “We see sport as the platform for all people to come together. The Polytan team in Berlin has had the privilege of renovating many sports facilities in recent years in preparation for this event, applying the latest technologies and sustainability concepts. We are happy that our sports surfaces contributed to making the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 a great success.”

Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 - Opening Ceremony
Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 - Opening Ceremony

While the support offered to participating athletes thanks to suitable surface products is key, our Managing Director Mathias Schmidt says the radiant power that emanated from this major event is also crucial – achieving and actively living an inclusive society through the unifying power of sport. “We truly champion the notion that all people should have equal access to sport, education, culture and health care. Sport is a very important aspect of this, but the Special Olympics World Games convey much more than that.”

To mark the Special Olympics World Games, we had the opportunity to interview goalkeeper Sol Rein-Saunders. When speaking to us, the athlete with Down Syndrome not only explained the particular challenges of playing as a goalkeeper, but also what team sport and team spirit mean to her, on and off the pitch. When asked if she feels restricted by Down Syndrome, she explains confidently: “To my mind, it’s something good.” After all, she and others feel great strength within themselves since they are flexible and aware of problems and challenges. “And also because I can see my ability to discover new things.” For Sol Rein-Saunders, the Special Olympics World Games were an opportunity to demonstrate that everyone has their own special strengths, different perspectives and individual abilities.

She’s even found her way thanks to an inclusive artistic project – and thanks to her own life motto: “Be strong and show your strengths”. After all, Sol Rein-Saunders is not only a goalkeeper, but has also worked as an artist and is currently training to become a circus trainer. This was made possible by the Berliner Zentrum für bewegte Kunst e.V. (, an association that sponsors the Sonnenstich Circus. Artists with Down Syndrome also thrilled audiences with their professional performances during the Special Olympics World Games. But what the 50 or so Sonnenstich artists learn while preparing for the programme is not only impressive for those watching. It also helps them gain more self-confidence and independence. Sol Rein-Saunders is very clear that “I work here with passion and am quite independent. I earn my own money. This was my big aim and I’m happy to have achieved it.”

Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 - Athletics
Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 - Fieldhockey

It was extremely gratifying that the Special Olympics World Games were so well received by the public. Over 330,000 fans and an audience of millions on ARD and and in the Sportstudio made both the first and second channels happy. We are also overwhelmed! Berlin was full of joy, top-class sport and exuberant parties. Everyone was able to experience their own personal highlights and make unforgettable memories. Some of it can even be relived on YouTube. As the Special Olympics World Games only take place every four years – alternating between summer and winter games (since 1968 and 1977 respectively) – we must now turn our attention to Perth in Australia in 2027.

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