Israeli athlete Mir Segel took first place this week in the 100-meter freestyle at the 2023 Special Olympics world summer games, held this year in Berlin, Germany.
Segel, 28, is an avid swimmer, who is also passionate about gardening, and has an Autism spectrum disorder.
Upon receiving his gold medal, with "Hatikvah" playing in the background, Segel said: "I overcame obstacles and people viewing me as different. I was successful."
"I was able to conquer my fears, reach my goal, and also bring honor and pride to Israel," Segal, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age three, continued. "And it was fun!”
A resident of Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak in the northwestern Negev, Segel participates in ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran’s Therapeutic Horse Stable. He also is a long-term member of the rehabilitation village’s "Gardeners Without Borders Program," a JNF-USA program that provides employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Israel at the 2023 Special Olympics
More than 7,000 athletes from 126 countries competed in the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin.
For many years the Special Olympics, which focuses on athletes with intellectual disabilities, was not active in Israel, while the regular Olympics and the Paralympics for athletes with physical disabilities received funding from the government. Now Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sports Miki Zohar has given the Special Olympics recognition as an official sports federation.
“It’s a brave move; it’s just, and it’s inclusive,” Sharon Levy Balanga, the CEO of Special Olympics Israel, told The Jerusalem Report. “It means we will now get funding, but the amount is still under discussion. We’re hoping we will get enough to prepare and train our athletes and to send them to competitions. When they come back, they will be recognized. Until now, we were the only ones to recognize their achievements.”
Balanga said there are more than 3,500 athletes in the Special Olympics in Israel who compete in 11 different fields of sport. All the athletes in Special Olympics have disabilities such as cognitive delays, intellectual disabilities, severe ADHD, Down Syndrome or are on the autistic spectrum. She says that excellence in sports is important not only for the athletes but also for the public that do not have disabilities.
Linda Gradstein contributed to this report.