Launceston holds a special place in the history of the Special Olympics National Games.
- The Special Olympics National Games are returning to northern Tasmania for the first time in decades
- The city hosted the first National Games in 1986
- More than 700 athletes will take part
The first games for people with an intellectual disability was held in the northern Tasmanian city back in 1986.
In just a few days' time they will return.
The chief executive of Special Olympics Australia, Pierre Comis, is thrilled the event is returning to Launceston.
"In many ways it is the home of Special Olympics National Games," he said.
"It's where we hosted the first ever national games in 1986 and it's really nice to be able to come back and celebrate everything we do by hosting them in Launceston again this year."
A proud history
Launceston has played a key role in helping to provide sports participation for people with an intellectual disability for years.
The first Mini Olympics was held in Launceston in 1979 with athletes competing in a range of sports.
Other events followed.
"In addition to being the home of the first ever national games, it's also the home of our first ever junior national games, which were held in 2004," Mr Comis said.
In the first national games in 1986, 200 athletes from Australia and New Zealand competed across four sports — athletics, soccer, gymnastics and swimming.
It has grown substantially since then.
More than 750 athletes will arrive in Launceston in coming days for five days of competition across a variety of sports for the 12th national games, starting on Monday.
They will be joined by hundreds of support staff, coaches, event organisers, as well as participants family and friends.
Athletes from all states will compete across nine sports.
"This means everything to our athletes," Mr Comis said.
"They attend weekly training through their local program and their clubs all around the country and that weekly training is what prepares them for the pinnacle for the Special Olympics, which is the national games.
"The power of our movement is really around the friendships that are made and the joy of participating and achieving success."
Embrace the action
Venues in Launceston include the St Leonards Athletics Track, the Launceston Aquatic Centre, the Elphin Sports Centre, the Silverdome and York Park.
It will feature competitors like Stacey Smith from New South Wales.
She represented her state in swimming at the first National Games in Launceston in 1986 and won a gold medal
"She has attended national games since and she will be attending again this year as a ten-pin bowler this time," Mr Comis said.
A boost for northern Tasmania
Launceston Mayor Albert van Zetten says the games will give the city a boost.
"It will be worth millions of dollars, there's no doubt about that," he said.
Tasmanian athletes competing in front of family and friends in their home state will also benefit.
"It's always exciting when you're competing against the best but when you're doing that in front of your home crowd that's the exciting part," Mayor van Zetten said.
"I think it lifts them and it makes them more excited to be Tasmanian and I've seen that when I've spoken to some of the athletes; how excited they are and how keen they are to participate ... I'm sure they'll do Tassie proud."
He says the city is proud to celebrate diversity and pleased the event is finally going ahead after COVID disruption.
Local athletes up for the challenge
Launceston athlete Nick Heames is one of hundreds of athletes preparing to participate.
Heames will be competing in tennis singles and doubles during the five-day event.
"I think it's going to be fun," he said.
"There's going to be big support for me and for everybody else and [I] can't wait to start."
While it will be the third time Heames has represented the state at a national games it is the first time he has turned his talents to tennis, after previously competing in basketball.
He said it has been a tough training campaign.
The games will be used as selection for the World Games that will be held in Berlin in June next year.