Twin Cities wins hosting privilege for 2026 Special Olympics USA Games

Two men speak at an event
Erik Anderson, left, chats with Darrel Knauss at Huntington Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota following a news conference to announce that the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games will take place in the Twin Cities.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

The Twin Cities will host the Special Olympics USA Games in 2026, state officials announced Friday. The event is expected to draw around 4,000 athletes and tens of thousands of fans, volunteers and coaches from across the country.

Minnesota beat out three other states in its bid for the games. They’ll feature 15 team and individual sports, plus another five demonstration events.

The 2026 games will take place largely at the University of Minnesota, but organizers are planning events at other athletic venues around the Twin Cities.

The Special Olympics began in 1968 to give people with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to develop athletic skills. Forty-nine-year-old Erik Anderson, a golfer, has been competing for three decades.

“I have a learning disability, and I was born with a disability called acrodysostosis. It’s a shortness of limbs,” Anderson said.

Anderson lives independently and has a job with the Special Olympics Minnesota organization. He gets help on the golf course from Darrel Knauss, who’s not disabled and plays alongside Anderson as his unified partner.

“For golf, we play alternate shots,” Anderson said. “So I might start where I hit off the first tee, and then Darrel takes a second hit, we keep going, we alternate shots. It’s somebody there to support you.”

The two are getting ready for this year’s USA Games in Orlando next month. But Knauss said they’re already excited to have the event in the Twin Cities.

“The good thing about it is when you travel to Orlando or some place, you can only take a finite number of people with you,” he said. “When it’s held in Minnesota, we’ll be able to have a lot more people participate.”

Peyton Libby, a junior at Orono High School, is playing basketball for Team Minnesota in Orlando this year. She’s looking forward to 2026.

“I think I’ll be so happy to watch them and support them,” Libby said.

Her friend and fellow Orono High School student athlete Jenna Perkins is honorary chair of the Twin Cities event.

“I’m excited that they’re going to come here and have so much fun. It’s a very fun opportunity [to continue the] inclusion revolution,” Perkins said.

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