MINNEAPOLIS — The Land of 10,000 lakes has recently played host to the Super Bowl, the Men's Final Four and the Women's Final Four. In four short years, Minnesota will also host the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games.
Inside a packed press room at the University of Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz, University President Joan T.A. Gabel and Dave Dorn, the president and CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota, held a press conference on Friday to announce the 2026 USA Games were coming to the Gopher State.
"Every four years, Special Olympics hosts the USA Games and in 2026, this will be the single biggest sporting event in the United States during that year," Walz said during Friday's press conference.
The University of Minnesota will be home for the games and will offer the university's housing, athletic, dining and medical facilities for the athletes, coaches, families and fans, according to University President Gabel.
"We are super honored that the 2026 Games will be held here," Dorn said. "It is a huge event with measurable impact across the state and I'm sure our state will deliver an unmatched competitive and community spirit for the athletes, the coaches and for all that touch the games."
Walz said athletes from all 50 states, Canada and the Caribbean will participate in 20 sports during the games, bringing more than 115,000 people and 4,000 athletes to the state, with an estimated economic impact of $70 million.
"More importantly, it will showcase these incredible athletes, the work they do and the idea of inclusiveness in our society," Walz said. "Minnesota has always prided ourselves on our health and wellness by making sure that includes everyone."
This year's USA Games are being held in Orlando in June and are being broadcast on ESPN, according to Dorn.
"The games being in Minnesota will give us an opportunity to showcase this is a state where every single person can thrive in what they do," Walz said.
The honorary chairs of the Special Olympics USA 2026 games presented the governor with an official jersey along with a special message.
"Special Olympics is about so much more than sports. It's about inclusion and we're so proud that Minnesota is a part of the inclusion revolution," said Jenna Perkins, a senior at Orono High School and a Special Olympics athlete. Jenna is also the daughter of former KARE 11 Sports Anchor Eric Perkins.
The Twin Cities is no stranger to hosting large Special Olympics events, back in 1991 they hosted the Special Olympics World Summer Games.
In the initial bidding for the games, Dorn said there were three other states that were seeking to host the USA Games, including Texas. He added that several states are already bidding on the 2032 USA Games.
"It's become a very valuable property," Dorn said, "what we're really excited about is we've got four years to start creating events and celebrating organizations that really promote inclusion and the gift of what that brings to not only schools but also brings to the community, so we're fired up about that."
Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare Insurance will be the title sponsor for the 2026 USA Games.
"We've been partners for many years (with Special Olympics) and we're certainly excited across United Health Group to help these athletes prepare for what is the highest level of competition," Brian Thompson, the CEO of UnitedHealthcare, said in Friday's press conference.
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