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Kapiti's Michael Banner heading for Special Olympics in Athens
15 November

Kapiti local Michael Banner has been selected for the New Zealand Basketball team for the 13th Special Olympics World Summer Games. The international games will be held in Athens, Greece from 25 June to 4 July 2011.

"We're so proud of Michael's achievement," says Liz Johnstone, chairperson of the Special Olympics Kapiti Committee. "He's a lovely, committed young man, a good sportsman, and an obvious leader on the Kapiti team. We know he'll have a great experience in Athens."

Michael has shown a high level of dedication to the Kapiti basketball team, attending all weekly practices and regional tournaments since the team was set up in 2007. His cheerful, friendly nature sees him get on well with everyone; he has a part-time job here on the Coast. Mature and independent, Michael likes to help others improve their skills, and his own game skills have advanced rapidly over the past years.

Michael will be travelling to Greece with 35 other athletes representing New Zealand: a total of 26 men and 10 women whose ages range from 18 to 58. The team was confirmed following a Labour Weekend Selection Camp in Christchurch; athletes will compete in aquatics, athletics, basketball, bowling, equestrian, golf and powerlifting. Nine reserves are on standby to travel to Greece if confirmed athletes cannot attend.

Rob Torrance, Head of Delegation, leads the first all‐volunteer management and coaching team. A firefighter from Dunedin, Mr Torrance was appointed to his Special Olympics role after serving as the Otago Team Manager at the 2009 Special Olympics National Summer Games in Palmerston North. He was also the Special Olympics New Zealand basketball head coach for the 2007 World Summer Games in Shanghai: that team brought home a gold medal.

Mr Torrance is looking forward to the road to 2011. "The selected team have gelled incredibly well," he says, "and the athletes, coaches and management team will all now begin the hard‐core training that will last for the next eight months."

The team will leave New Zealand on 14 June and spend five days at a training camp in Loutraki, approximately 100 km from Athens. From there, they will spend five days on the island of Rhodes for a Host Town Programme. The Host Town Programme is especially significant, giving the athletes a chance to learn about Greek culture as well as getting to know each other before the competition begins.

"Special Olympics is not about elite sport," says Kathy Gibson, Special Olympics New Zealand Chief Executive. "We offer training and competition for all levels of sporting ability and our focus is on life‐long participation. Attending a World Games is one part of an athlete's sporting pathway."

Representing New Zealand is a huge accomplishment for the athletes on the team, says Mrs Gibson. "Some of the athletes have not travelled outside New Zealand before. While this trip is a fantastic opportunity to compete in a world sporting event, when asked what they like most about Special Olympics, many of the athletes will say it is the camaraderie and friendship. Through Special Olympics sport, they have a chance to participate more fully in the community."

The 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games will be the biggest sporting event in the world in 2011. It will draw 7500 athletes from 185 countries who will compete in 22 sports. Athletes will be supported by 2500 coaches, 3000 officials/referees and 25000 volunteers. The Games will be reported worldwide by 3000 media representatives.

The Special Olympics Kapiti Committee is currently fundraising to get Michael to Athens, donations can be made at the National Bank or Diana's Lotto in Mclean Street.

For further information, contact Liz Johnstone, Chairperson Special Olympics Kapiti, phone 04 2987 937 email

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