Excitement is building for the 2026 Special Olympics USA, which will be held in Minnesota. The state’s successful bid for the big event was announced in May.
The news triggered a flurry of preparation. The games will bring together athletes, coaches and fans who will showcase inclusion, competition and how to unify the world through sport. In June 2026, the Twin Cities will host as many as 4,000 athletes, 10,000 volunteers, 1,500 coaches and 75,000 fans from all 50 states, parts of Canada and the Caribbean.
A competitive bid process was conducted to select a host site that has the infrastructure, resources and active community support needed to operate a successful Games. The bid process goes on for one year.
Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to 5 million participants and Unified Sports partners in 172 countries.
Special Olympics competitions are held every day, all around the world, at the local national and regional level, with an estimated 100,000 events each year.
Special Olympics Minnesota is sending a record 145 athletes to the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, which are being held in Orlando. During the closing ceremonies, the torch will be passed literally and figurately to Minnesota.
Dave Dorn, president and CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota, praised the leadership in place for the 2026 games. They will lead efforts to make the games successful and promote the spirit of inclusion that is central to Special Olympics.
“It is a huge event, with measurable impact across the state,” he said.
Minneapolis and St. Paul last hosted the Special Olympics World Games in summer 1991.
The first-ever summer games were held in July 1968, in Chicago, with about 1,000 athletes from the U.S. and Canada. At those first games, honorary event chairperson Eunice Kennedy Shriver announced the formation of the Special Olympics organization.
“I am proud and excited that Minnesota will host the 2026 USA Special Olympics Games,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “Minnesota has always been an epicenter for health and wellness, and that includes inclusive health for all Minnesotans. Hosting the USA Special Olympics Games emphasizes our commitment to creating a state where everyone can participate in athletic competition and pursue their goals at the highest level.”
The 2026 Special Olympics USA Games will mark the largest sporting event in the nation that year. Historically, the games have generated more than $70 million dollars of economic impact for their host city.
The games will be comprised of 15 Olympic-type team and individual sports, as well as five demonstration sports. Sport competition will be hosted at the University of Minnesota and additional world-class venues throughout the Twin Cities.
“We are thrilled to welcome the Special Olympics athletes and their families to our world-class University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus in June of 2026,” said President Joan Gabel, honorary co-chair for the 2026 USA Games. “Our university shares the same goals of the games in transforming lives through inclusion and celebrating each person’s greatest ability.”
UnitedHealth Group is the presenting sponsor of the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games. The healthcare company, which includes UnitedHealthcare and Optum, is a longtime supporter of Special Olympics Minnesota and is committed to helping people live healthier lives, increasing access to care and eradicating health disparities for all. UnitedHealth Group will play a key role in making the Games a success and by leaving a lasting impact on inclusive health in Minnesota.
Brian Thompson, UnitedHealthcare’s CEO, will serve alongside Joan Gabel as honorary co-chair.
“On behalf of the more than 350,000 employees from UnitedHealth Group, we are thrilled to be the presenting sponsor of the 2026 USA Games right here in our hometown,” Thompson said. “We have a long history with Special Olympics and support the games’ vision of inclusion. We look forward to seeing everyone out in the community supporting these athletes as they pursue their goals at the highest levels of competition.”
Christine Sovereign, senior managing director and Minneapolis office managing director of Accenture, will be the CEO of the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games. She will serve as a loaned executive from the company. Sovereign is a former Special Olympics Minnesota board member and an active volunteer for the organization.
Special Olympics board member and UnitedHealth Group executive Adam Hjerpe will serve as the board chair for the games. Joining Hjerpe on the executive board will be Dave Dorn, CEO of Special Olympics Minnesota and Wendy Williams Blackshaw, CEO of Minnesota Sports and Events.
Stay up to date on the 2026 USA Games or get involved locally, follow Special Olympics Minnesota on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.