I Love Special Olympics Review

I LOVE SPECIAL OLYMPICS: Thursday 19th July, BBC4, 9pm

It’s a week until the Olympic Games kicks-off and it’s fair to say that people have been going a bit bananas. Folk everywhere have been clammering for a glimpse of the Olympic torch, G4S Security have admitted to everything but failing to organise a piss-up in a brewery and Channel 4 put out this excellent, if not bombastic advert to promote the Paralympics.

But if you’re one of the many who has failed to take on board the official message of “be really excited, but stay at home”, BBC4 have put out an excellent documentary about athletes, but without any of the enforced hype. There’s no big names with sponsorship deals here, as it focuses instead on the lesser known event of the Special Olympics.

For the uninitiated, the Special Olympics are not to be confused with the Paralympics. Whilst the Paralympics is for athletes with all manner of disabilities, the Special Olympics is specifically focused on those with intellectual disabilities. In I Love Special Olympics, film-maker Thomas Leader introduces us to four athletes as they prepare for the competition.

We meet Hannah, a dancer with Down’s Syndrome. Confident and energetic, Hannah is a picture of someone who is doing what they love, and doing it really well. With sky high aspirations of fame, watching Hannah perform and talk to the camera is a real joy.

Unfortunately, not all featured are as happy, dare I say lucky, as Hannah. John, a 45 year old bowler contracted Measles as a baby, which led to brain damage. Affable enough when he first appears, John is attached to his mother dearly. Leader visits him in the middle of a week where John is living independently, and struggling. It’s upsetting to even the most reality TV hardened viewer to see a man so vulnerable so depressed. When he’s asked what he loves about life, he replies; “Nothing.” When the lights in his room are turned on, John claims to hear screaming voices. Its a tragic insight into the side effects of brain damage – loneliness, isolation, despair.

In a similar vein we meet Judo world champion Oliver. Described as a “functioning autistic”, Oliver has good communication skills, however, he also has problems with anger, and this frequently manifests when around his foster family. The living embodiment of Pirelli’s slogan “Power is Nothing without Control”, Oliver’s prowess on the Judo mats is impressive to say the least, flipping people over his back as if they were made of straws and sticky tape. If only, Oliver laments, he could control himself off the mats.

Tom, who has aspergers syndrome, is a keen basketball player. Engaging himself in the sport has saved him from being excluded from school, and in his words; “It makes me feel good. I’m proud of doing it. It’s something that I’m good at. It makes me feel helpful.” It’s a better endorsement for participating in sports then anything that LOCOG’s PR team could have put out.

I Love Special Olympics is an interesting, gentle, and emotionally involving look at a sporting event mostly sidelined in the public consciousness. Get away from the guff of ‘The Games’, and give this a go.