living reading time: 5 min publication date: 17.01.2020


© Special Olympics Kärnten
One of the winners of the Special Olympics

The clock above the ice-skating rink at the Villach Rathausplatz is counting down - it’s almost time for the Special Olympics Winter Games 2020! Running from January 22nd - 28th, these national games with international participation will be held in Villach, Feistritz an der Drau, and Hohenthurn. What are the Special Olympics Winter Games and why is this event so important in Austria? Here is a short guide so you’ll be prepared on opening day!



The Special Olympics was founded in the United States in 1968, began in Austria in 1993, and is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Through this organization, there are now around 5.3 million athletes training and competing in over 170 countries around the world.


  • For 7 days Villach will be the center of the National Winter Games.
  • Around 900 athletes and 400 coaches from all over Austria will participate in the competitions, and some smaller international delegations will also take part.
  • Athletes will compete in 9 different types of sports.
  • Approximately 300 award ceremonies will be celebrated.
  • 600 volunteers are helping to prepare and organize the event, will welcome the athletes, and keep time during the matches.
© Special Olympics Kärnten
The olympic fire starting the Special Olympics


Participants will compete in nine different sports:

  • figure skating,
  • speed skating,
  • floorball,
  • cross-country skiing,
  • snowshoeing,
  • Alpine skiing,
  • curling,
  • dancing,
  • and MATP (Motor Activity Training Program - a sports program for people with high or very high special needs).


For details of all the sporting events check out the schedule on the website of Herzschlag Kärnten, the official organizer of these games.

A few notable happenings:

  • Official events begin on January 24th with the Torch Run through the towns where the games take place, which helps raise awareness for the Special Olympics games. The event starts at the Mehrzweckhaus Achomitz (SV Achomitz) in Hohenthurn at 11:00 a.m. and finishes with a small ceremony at the Skilift Hrast in Feistritz an der Drau at around 11:30. In Villach, the torch starts at the Stadtpolizeikommando at 1:30 p.m., arrives at the Rathausplatz around 2:00, and ends with another ceremony.
  • The official opening ceremony of the Winter Games will take place on January 24th at the Villach Stadthalle, with doors opening at 6:00 p.m. and the ceremony starting at 7:00. During the opening, the representatives of the Austrian provinces will welcome the athletes, the Special Olympics oath will be said, flags will be raised, and the fire of the Special Olympics will be lit. 
  • The time and place is the same for the closing ceremony on January 27th. Come say goodbye to the athletes, take a look back on the games, and be there for the flag lowering and when the fire of the Special Olympics goes out. 
  • Space is limited for both the opening and closing ceremonies, so be sure to get tickets ahead of time!
  • One event worth a special mention: For the first time in the history of these winter games, a slalom night race will happen! Come out on January 25th to cheer on the athletes at what will surely be a fun and spectacular competition.
© Special Olympics Kärnten
One of the motivated participants of the winter games


To raise awareness about this event and help more people get involved, Herzschlag created projects for local clubs, schools, and kindergartens to participate in as a way to learn more about and contribute to the Special Olympics. Kids from the region have had the opportunity to create motivational videos for the athletes or craft fun signs and banners to carry during the competitions. Several groups of students at regional high schools have created their own projects related to the event, and local schools have hosted some qualifying competitions, with students taking care of the scoring systems. 


If you’d like to get involved in these special games as more than a spectator, check out the options on the Dabei Sein section of the Herzschlag website - there are opportunities for everyone!