Special Olympics explains error that led to medal confusion

Megan placed third in the event. (Photo: Chriss Miller)

The family of a Special Olympics participant was surprised to see their daughter come in third in a recent event where she competed against able-bodied athletes.

At a Special Olympics Fort Wayne track and field meet at Leo Jr./Sr. High School last weekend, Chriss Miller says her daughter Megan, who practiced for two months for the event, was given a bronze medal in the shot put competition.

“Megan was the only athlete in her event. After she threw, the two university students threw. Megan should have gotten gold, as the only competitor of her age/gender/ability. When awards came, she was placed on the third place on the podium, followed by the college students (so they could see who they competed against),” said Chriss Miller, Megan’s mom.

Jeff Mohler with the Special Olympics says it was due to a clerical error. The students were participating in a “unified” event, but unified students are meant to compete in the traditional events, and never against Special Olympians.

Chriss Miller says her daughter has been competing in Special Olympics events for eight years.

"Megan is very proud of her necklaces, as she calls the medals. The issue is that unified events are normally team sports, but shot put is obviously not a team sport," said Miller.

The women who competed against Megan were the only two non-disabled athletes in the shot put event, and the Special Olympics says they should have competed only against each other, Mohler said.

“Special Olympics’ staff and volunteers work really hard to provide a first-rate experience for each of the 11,000 athletes in Indiana. Occasionally those efforts come up short, as they did for the athlete competing in the Fort Wayne track & field meet. We regret the mistake, and have been pleased at how forgiving people have been as we do our best correcting the error,” said Michael Farnish, president of the Special Olympics.

The two students who competed against Megan are from Huntington University, which provided this statement:

“As a university, we encourage our students to give of their personal time to serve the community with partners such as the Special Olympics. The students who participated in the Special Olympics event at Leo Jr./Sr. High School as unified athletes have volunteered with Special Olympics for the past two years and have been involved in several Special Olympics’ activities and meets. The Special Olympics’ Unified Sports program joins ‘people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding,’ according to the Special Olympics website.

The Facebook photo from the Leo event does not reflect the purpose of the students’ participation in the event which was to support and to encourage Special Olympics athletes. At Huntington University, we are committed to service. Our students, faculty and staff volunteer more than 11,000 hours each year locally and internationally through mission trips, service projects and our Volunteer 911 program which responds to urgent needs within the community.”