The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, held July 25 to August 2 in Los Angeles proved to be another tremendously successful Games for Kentucky athletes. Four Kentuckians — rhythmic gymnast Danielle Blakeney of Erlanger, bowler Amanda Browning of Taylorsville, artistic gymnast Lee Dockins of Russellville and swimmer Chris Willis of Owensboro — competed as part of the Special Olympics USA team at the Games.
The last Kentucky athlete added to the team thanks to a late opportunity to add a bowler, Browning became the first Kentucky athlete to medal in Los Angeles. On July 28, her Special Olympics USA team bowled an 1154 series to edge out a second USA team for the Gold. Later that same day, Browning placed fourth in her division of the doubles event, bowling with Barbara Figueroa of El Cajon, Calif., who had been on the Gold Medal-winning team earlier in the day. Browning closed out her World Games events with a sixth-place finish in the singles event on July 30.
Blakeney followed Browning’s success on July 28 with a Gold Medal performance of her own. Blakeney claimed the Gold in ball routine, Silver in ribbon and Bronze in clubs in addition to a fifth-place finish in hoop. Her overall score was enough to earn her the all-around Gold Medal as well. It was Blakeney’s second consecutive World Games all-around Gold, as she won the all-around at the 2011 World Games in Athens as well.
Following the individual events, Blakeney added a third Gold Medal when her Special Olympics USA team captured the group ball event as well.
Just as Blakeney did in the rhythmic gymnastics event, Dockins dominated the artistic gymnastics competitionon the last full competitive day of the Games. Dockins claimed Gold Medals in the balance beam and floor exercise as well as a Bronze Medal in the uneven bars and a fourth-place ribbon in the vault. Also like Blakeney, Dockins’ overall score netted her the all-around gold. For Dockins it was the second consecutive World Games Gold in the all-around and beam and third in floor exercise, which she also won at the 2007 World Games in Shanghai.
Willis became the final Kentucky athlete to claim a medal at the Games when his 4×50-meter freestyle relay team took the Bronze in their heat on the final day of competition. The Americans finished less than a half second behind the Silver Medalists from South Korea. The Bronze followed a pair of fourth place finishes for Willis. He claimed fourth in both the 50-meter backstroke and 50-meter freestyle. For Willis it was a return to the World Games Podium after a 16-year absence. He was also a swimming medalist at the 1995 World Games in North Carolina.
In all, Kentucky athletes claimed 11 medals at the Games, including six Gold.
The four athletes and coaches Robyn Ballinger, Julie Coon and Mary Fehrenbach, who were all part of the Special Olympics USA delegation returned to a huge welcome at the Louisville International Airport on August 3.
This was the first time since 1999 that the World Summer Games have been held in the United States. From 1968 through 1999 all World Games event were held in the USA, but recent events have been held in Ireland (2003), Shanghai (2007) and Athens (2011). The 2015 World Summer Games brings together 6,500 Special Olympics athletes and 3,000 coaches from 177 countries to compete in 24 sports at what was the biggest sporting event in the world this year.