7 athletes, 12 medals: Manitoba Special Olympians head home Saturday

The seven Manitoba participants in this year's Special Olympics World Winter Games are making their way home on Saturday, and every one of them is bringing back hardware.

"The team has done extremely well," said Sharon Bollenbach, president of Special Olympics Canada. "I think the airlines better be prepared because the planes will be heavier with all the medals these athletes are bringing home."

Canada sent a total of 108 athletes to the games in Austria, which started on March 14 and wrapped up Saturday. Canadian athletes competed in six sports: floor hockey, crosscountry and alpine skiing, speed skating, figure skating and snowshoeing.

On Friday, Bollenbach said the mood in the Canadian delegation in the leadup to that night's closing ceremonies was one of elation, but a touch bittersweet.

"It's probably one of a little sadness and probably a lot of tiredness mixed in there too," she said.

"They've had an opportunity to sort of meld with their teammates  and become great friends, meet people from other countries and be the stars for a couple of weeks — as they should be — and just really get a lot of gratitude and just really be acknowledged for their sporting achievement."

At the time, Bollenbach said the final count wasn't in for Canadian medals, but her most recent number was 117. Manitoba athletes were responsible for 12 of them.

Now the Winter Games are wrapped up, Bollenbach said athletes around the country will start preparing for their summer cycle.

"Special Olympics is really about those everyday programs that happen any day of the week in 18 official sports that we do in Canada," she said.

If you want to help welcome the Manitoba athletes home, Bollenbach said the public is invited to a welcome-home party at Winnipeg's James Armstrong Richardson International Airport at 8:15 p.m.