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Chicago Remembers 1968 Special Olympics with Anniversary Celebration


Fifty years ago this Friday, 1,000 young athletes competed for gold at Soldier Field as part of the very first Special Olympics.

To celebrate the anniversary, a series of events kicked off earlier this week and continue through Saturday. Among the events, which have drawn people from 25 countries to the city: an international soccer tournament (wrapping up Friday) and the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary Celebration Concert (Saturday) featuring Chance the Rapper, Usher and O.A.R.

“Just to have the celebration is exciting,” said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke. “And to have the International Special Olympics and all the states and other countries come to Chicago to celebrate what Chicago did.”

  • Justice Anne Burke, one of the leading forces behind the first games, stands with volunteers at the 1968 Games. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

    Justice Anne Burke, one of the leading forces behind the first games, stands with volunteers at the 1968 Games. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

  • Athletes receive their medals at the 1968 Games. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

    Athletes receive their medals at the 1968 Games. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

  • The first Special Olympics began with an opening ceremony and parade. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

    The first Special Olympics began with an opening ceremony and parade. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

  • The 1968 Games brought together about 1,000 athletes with intellectual differences from 26 U.S. states and Canada. They competed in swimming, floor hockey and track. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

    The 1968 Games brought together about 1,000 athletes with intellectual differences from 26 U.S. states and Canada. They competed in swimming, floor hockey and track. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

  • Eunice Kennedy Shriver, left, stands with athletes. She served as director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, which helped fund the event.  (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

    Eunice Kennedy Shriver, left, stands with athletes. She served as director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, which helped fund the event. (Courtesy of Special Olympics Chicago)

Burke was one of the leading forces behind the first games, which took place on July 20, 1968.

“Chicago really placed people with learning differences on the map by providing [the Special Olympics] … and the world recognizes that in this point at time,” she said.

Burke joins us to discuss the history of the Special Olympics.


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