World Games and USA Games


There are no bigger stages than the Special Olympics World Games and the Special Olympics USA Games.

It’s a level of competition achieved through hard work, dedicated training, progressive competition, and good fortune. But you might wonder how we nominate athletes for this honor. After all, there are thousands of athletes and Unified partners across Washington, but only a handful of spots.

So how do we make our final decision?

Special Olympics has developed a set of rules that govern advancement and the nomination 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.

What’s the Difference between “Nomination” and “Selection?”

We use the term “nomination” instead of selection because participants must successfully complete Team Trials (also known as Training Camp) to be officially selected or confirmed by Team USA. Team Trials involves many of the things participants will experience throughout the Games: long travels, extended time away from home, adapting to group schedules, and cohesion with coaches and teammates.

The goal of Team Trials is to ensure that participants who may represent Washington can work through these challenges without parents, family members or circle of care present.

Games to Games: What is the Process?

Advancement begins with allocations, which are essentially the number of 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 nominate 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.
  • 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 nominated by random draw.
  • Alternate Selections: When nominations are made for national and international games, alternates may also be nominated. Typically for individual sports, there are primary athlete nominations, secondary athlete nominations and then the alternate athlete nominations. 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 about 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 at advancement.

Our divisioning process is one-of-a-kind and designed 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

An Example in Action

Imagine Special Olympics Washington was granted a quota of one female cycling athlete to nominate for 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 cyclists 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 nominated to join Team USA. Once nominated, our lucky and deserving athlete will attend Team Trials. Upon successful completion of Team Trials, our cycling athlete  is recognized and officially selected to join Team USA and to compete at World Games.

Information and Application Process for 2025 Winter World Games in Torino, Italy

Please read through all the information below before applying.


Allocations have yet to be decided. Allocation selections take place on November 14 and announcements will follow.

Qualification Criteria

Applicants must have received a gold medal in one or more events in one of the following sports at the 2023 State Winter Games in Wenatchee: Alpine Skiing, Cross Country Skiing, Figure Skating, Snowboarding, Snowshoe, Speed Skating.

Applicants must be 15 years of age by the time of the Opening Ceremony of the Winter World Games (March 8, 2025).

Timeline and Key Dates

  • October 13 – November 10, 2023 – Application is open for those who meet the criteria above.
  • November 14, 2023 – Washington participates in an allocation draft selection.
  • November 17, 2023 – Washington conducts a random draw to select nominees from those that applied during the application dates.
  • November 20-30, 2023 – Washington vets those that were selected from the random draw and ensures the nominees meet the qualification criteria.
  • December 1, 2023 – Nominee information is finalized and sent to Special Olympics North America.
  • December 8, 2023 – All applicants contacted and informed of nomination status.
  • April 2024  – Nominees participate in Team Trials.
  • March 2 – March 17, 2025 – World Games (includes travel)

Things to Consider Before Applying:

  • Length of Games – The World Games experience may span anywhere from 14 to 21 days. The length of time required depends on the location of the Games and the pre-Games experience. For many Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners, this length of time away from home can prove to be unsettling.
  • Travel and Long Days – The distance required to travel to World Games destinations will be long and could require several days. Many times, this travel will involve differing modes of transportation, such as airplane, bus, and train. In addition to the travel days being long, the actual days during the Games will be long. It is realistic to expect multiple 12–15-hour days (sometimes consecutively). The general health and fitness of the athlete should be considered. Participants should expect to walk for extended periods of time, over various distances, and over multiple days.
  • Adjusting to New Coaches – Coaches selected for the SO USA National Team come from across the country and it is rare for a World Games athlete/Unified partner to already know one of these coaches. Consider how well the athlete/Unified partner will adapt to a new coach, which may have a different coaching approach from their local coach.
  • Importance of Local Support – Local coach and parent/guardian must be committed to ensuring the athlete/Unified partner is trained/prepared appropriately, as well as being proactive and responsive in communicating with SO USA coaches and staff, to include securing passports as soon as they are selected and meeting deadlines.
  • Group/Adaptability – In order for the SO USA National Team to function well, all members must adhere to team rules and the team schedules. Often this means that a sport/team may need to adhere to a schedule as a group – meaning an athlete or Unified partner cannot dictate his/her own schedule. There will be times when schedules change with little or no notice and athletes/Unified partners must be able to adapt accordingly.
  • Daily Living Skills – While coaches can provide daily reminders, athletes must be able to independently handle all toileting, showering and daily hygiene needs in an efficient manner. Athletes/Unified partners must be comfortable sharing living space with other team members of the same gender.
  • Food/Diet – While accommodations are made for dietary restrictions such as diabetes, gluten-free, etc. Athletes/Unified partners will dine in settings which involve planned meals served to the group and while there will often be choices, it will be limited.
  • Commitment to Training – Athletes and partners are expected to commit to their training, health and fitness leading into the Games. Being prepared to not only travel, but to compete internationally, is very important.

If you have any questions, please contact Madison Ngong by email.