While the eyes of the golfing world are focussed this week on the European Tour's Dunhill Links championship and the Texas Open in San Antonio, a handful of unsung golfing heroes are competing for Olympic gold.
Englishman Ray Percival is among eight Great Britain golfers going for glory in Shanghai, China in the twelfth Special Olympics World Games - the biggest global sporting event of 2007 featuring 7000 athletes from 160 nations striving to overcome the odds of learning disabilities to reach for the stars.
The Special Olympics movement was founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister of President John F Kennedy, who believed that the Olympic ideals of sport could give confidence and new hope to people with learning disabilities as well as to those who cared for them. Special Olympics now reaches over 2.25 million athletes worldwide.
“I’ve been preparing for this for 12 months. It’s the biggest event in the world and I’m aiming to be at my best,” says Ray, voted North East Disabled Sports Personality of the Year in 2005 and who teed off this week at Tianma Country Club an hour from China’s commercial capital.
A total of 157 male and female golfers are taking part in the golf events from 20 nations. The Great Britain squad - four in the 18 hole and four in the 9-hole tournament - has high hopes of medals with five of their number from, Scotland, the spiritual birthplace of the game and two from Wales.
The squad also includes Graeme Andrew (Cambuslang), Shaun Buist (High Burnside), Iain Carle (Auchterarder), Ruairidh Deans (Kilconquhar), David Kerr (St Andrews), Philip Rees (Llanelli) and Matthew Sims (Cardiff).
Coach Craig Martin has helped to build up a 'Ryder Cup team spirit' with a number of coaching weekends and sports psychology sessions with Dr Karl Morris who mentors many of the world’s elite professional athletes. The squad has also had support from American Golf, Williams, Petron, Srixon and Mizuno.
Scotsman David Kerr is loving the experience in the Orient and it’s not just due to his passion for Chinese food!
“When we were led out into the Shanghai Stadium at the opening ceremony in front of 80,000 people it was quite unbelievable. I will never ever forget that moment."
“We hope to fly the flag for golf to become a mainstream Olympic sport. Our long term objectives though are to secure government funding for Special Olympics as a whole, get a full-time funded co-ordinator for Special Olympics golf and to work on initiatives and promotional campaigns with the game’s governing bodies and build on our excellent relationships with the European Tour and the R&A..
“Special Olympics is an amazing organisation that achieves many successes without the financial support afforded to its fellow members of the Olympic triumvirate movement,” adds Nadine whose trojan efforts behind the scenes has helped to make the dreams come true for Ray and his team.
Footnote: Special Olympics and Paralympics are two separate organisations. Special Olympics provides year-round sports and training opportunities for all learning disability levels. Paralympics provides elite-only level sports competition for multi-disabled groups including physical, blind and deaf.