World Games and USA Games



There’s no bigger stage than the Special Olympics World Games. 

It’s a level of competition achieved through hard work, dedicated training, progressive competition, and good fortune. But you might wonder how we select athletes for this honor. After all, there are more than 7,400 athletes and Unified partners across Washington, but only a handful of World Games spots. So how do we make our final decisions? 

Special Olympics has developed a set of rules that govern advancement and the selection process. Our General Rules for athlete advancement are grounded in this fundamental principle: Athletes of all ability levels have an equal opportunity to advance to the next higher level of competition. Each program is bound to fulfill these principles. 


Advancement begins with allocations, which are essentially the number of World Games spots available to Washington athletes or teams. In addition to quantity, allocations are further defined by gender, competitive ability, and sometimes specific events within the sport. 

Next, we must select athletes in accordance with formalized Criteria for Advancement as defined by the Special Olympics General Rules, Article 3, section 3.06(e). This boils down to a few key factors: 

Eligibility: To be considered eligible, athletes must have participated at the previous level of competition prior to advancing to the next higher level. Athletes or teams may not be barred from advancement or omitted from the draw based on prior competition or advancement experience. 

Non-Athletic Considerations: We also evaluate allocations based on medical, behavioral, and judicial consideration. There will be a pre-screening that is completed for all eligible participants prior to the random draw to ensure everyone meets the required criteria before selection. 

Performance: Priority is given to all first-place finishers from all divisions of the specific sport/event in consideration. We are required to do the same with second, then third-place finishers and so on until we have filled our allocations. If the number of eligible athletes and or teams exceeds the quota, athletes and teams are selected by random draw. 

Alternate Selections: When selections are made for national and international games, alternates are also selected. Typically for individual sports, there are primary athlete selections, secondary athlete selections and then the alternate athlete selections. An alternate is an athlete who may step into the place of the primary athlete in the event the primary or secondary athlete cannot compete. This is usually due to sickness, injury or unforeseen circumstances. An alternate is expected to train as if they are attending the Games, but they may not be called up to compete. We recognize there is uncertainty with being chosen as an alternate athlete and those that are selected may decline the opportunity if they choose. 

Your next question might be: “If only medal winners are eligible, how can each athlete get an equitable chance to advance to the next level of competition?” 

The answer to this question is at the heart of our organization’s credibility. Special Olympics Divisioning Rules ensure equitable competition for all athletes at all skill levels. At every competition, athletes are separated into heats of 3 to 8 competitors, having been divided by gender, age, and ability (with ability being the most important consideration). All athletes are evaluated through qualifying scores and/or preliminary rounds and are paired in a division of equally skilled and capable opponents. Therefore, all award-winning athletes from all divisions have an equal chance of selection for advancement. 

Our divisioning process is one-of-a-kind, designing by Special Olympics to create an even playing field for all athletes of all abilities. For an in-depth look at this process, watch this video: Special Olympics – Divisioning

Selections for Team Washington spots for the USA Games follow a similar process. Specific details on our selection process for the 2026 USA Games will be posted as soon as we have more information. 


Imagine Special Olympics Washington was granted a quota of one female cycling athlete to represent Team USA at World Games. First, we need to determine our eligible athletes. These eligible athletes will have competed in the previous State Games for cycling and placed first in their divisions. This imaginary pool may contain 25 cyclers of varying skill and strength depending upon their divisions. Each participant will go through a pre-screening process to ensure that the required selection criteria are met. Athletes that meet the pre-screening requirements will move forward and be added to the pool of athletes eligible to be randomly selected to join Team USA. If selected, our lucky and deserving athlete is recognized and advances to World Games. 


Washington has received two (2) allocations to represent Team USA at the 2023 World Games in Berlin. Below are the criteria for each of these selections. After the pre-screening process is completed for eligible participants, the selected athletes will be announced the week of September 5, 2022. 

Please note: for the 2023 World Games in Berlin it is a requirement from the Games Organizing Committee that all selected participants are fully vaccinated. 

One (1) Male Powerlifting Slot 

  • Must have registered and competed in the Combination 2 event at the 2022 Special Olympics Washington State Spring Games in Tacoma 
  • Must have received a gold medal in any of the events within the Combination 2 selection 
  • Must be 18 years or older at time of selection 
  • Must meet medical, behavioral, and judicial considerations 
  • Must be fully vaccinated  

 One (1) Male Athletics Slot 

  • Must have registered and competed in 1500-meter run or 800-meter run at the 2022 Special Olympics Washington State Spring Games in Tacoma 
  • Must have received a gold medal in the 1500-meter run or 800-meter run 
  • Must be 18 years or older at time of selection
  • Must meet medical, behavioral, and judicial considerations 
  • Must be fully vaccinated  


The opportunity to travel to a far-reaching land, immersion in an unfamiliar culture and bonding with people regardless of language or belief in the pursuit of sport in its purest form exemplifies the core principles of our Special Olympics movement. These experiences stretch far beyond the athletes who have had the privilege of World Games selection. Each of us involved in the movement is touched by this exchange. 

Please read and learn more about Special Olympics, and find additional educational material and the General Rules at