Israeli gold medal winner Lin Kornhauser (right) shops for a gift at a souvenir shop with the Los Angeles-based Erv Biener, a Special OIympics liaison. Israeli gold medal winner Lin Kornhauser (right) shops for a gift at a souvenir shop with the Los Angeles-based Erv Biener, a Special OIympics liaison. Israeli gold medal winner Lin Kornhauser (right) shops for a gift at a souvenir shop with the Los Angeles-based Erv Biener, a Special OIympics liaison. (Photo: Tess Cutler)

In Hollywood, Special Olympians compete – and then take in the sights

Before they returned home, we spent an afternoon with the medal-winning champs of Israel's bowling team.

In downtown Los Angeles, the trendy bowling alley Lucky Strike was hosting an intense bowling tournament during the weeklong 2015 Special Olympics. Competing countries included Sweden, Canada, Belgium and Israel.

At 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 31, the alley was a flutter of activity; volunteers with clipboards were scrambling, coaches and athletes were huddling, and hot lunch was being served.

Meanwhile, Israel’s bowling team, a charming crew of six individuals (four athletes, one coach and a delegation liaison), was celebrating a gold medal for Lin Kornhauser. After getting news of her win (it was a delayed announcement), the bashful athlete was overcome with glee, smiling and clasping her hands in victory. Watch below as she scores a strike during the tournament:

When Kornhauser was born, her muscles were so fragile that she couldn’t raise her own head. Twenty-seven years later, she’s an Olympic athlete, competing in four sports: bowling, bocce, tennis and swimming. During the morning’s competition, Kornhauser scored 319 points and won the gold medal in a singles bowling tournament.

But she wasn’t the only athlete at the table adorned with medals. Fellow Special Olympics athlete Eden Caspi, 25, scored a silver medal during a doubles unified bowling tournament on Wednesday. Unlike Caspi, his bowling partner Sammy Ohayon, 50, doesn’t have disabilities. This is the first year that the Special Olympics is adding unified bowling to its events.

“There’s a movement happening,” explained Coach Miki Reiss, who’s been coaching in the Special Olympics for the past four years, about the trend of unified competitions – when athletes without disabilities pair up with Special Olympians. Caspi, listening into the conversation, piped up, “Wikipedia it. Just Wikipedia it.

Kornhauser and her unified teammate Sigal Amitay won a bronze medal the day before in a doubles competition. Below is a "Big Lebowskl"-inspired YouTube video fans of the duo made shortly before they embarked to Los Angeles for the Special Olympics.

After spending every waking moment together for the past week – competing in tournaments, attending mandatory events, sleeping in the same quarters – the bowling team was starting to act like family, of which Amitay assumed the role of mother. Already a mother of four, it’s a role she’s used to, ensuring everyone on the team is well-fed and hydrated, ready to whip out a bite-size Kit Kat from her purse on a moment’s whim.

“I want to show you this,” said Amitay, flashing a silver butterfly ring on her finger. She explained the story behind it, how it belonged to a young girl with Down Syndrome she met at the games. The girl wanted Amitay to have it. “This is special,” she said, clasping the ring, holding it close into her chest.

For the first time since the team landed in Los Angeles, they finally had a moment to spare. No more competitions were planned for the remainder of the day, and with the whole afternoon free, they finally had a chance to behave like tourists and go sightseeing in Hollywood.

The team, along with Sigal Amitay (second from left), had some downtime after they competed and got to tour Hollywood, where they even met a local superhero.Sigal Amitay (second from left) and the team had some downtime after they competed and got to tour Hollywood, where they even met a local superhero. (Photo: Tess Cutler)

After navigating their way through the city’s perplexing underground metro (hopping from the blue to red to purple lines), they finally arrived at that famous boulevard, cluttered with pedestrians, graffiti, neon signs and street performers, snapping photos and window-shopping along the way.

For everyone except Erv Biener, the Special Olympics liaison who currently resides in Los Angeles, this was the team’s first visit to La La Land. So they did Hollywood proud, trekking the Walk of Fame (Coach Reiss was especially excited by this attraction), hopping on a Hollywood bus tour, and taking photos with celebrity impersonators.

When it was revealed to a Jackie Chan impersonator that Kornhauser was a gold-medal athlete, she blushed and immediately darted her eyes away to avoid any contact. “No,” she said like it was no big deal, shrugging her arms as if asking, “So what?”

A Jackie Chan impersonator (left) shows off his skills to Miki Reiss, the coach of Israel's Special Olympics bowling team.A Jackie Chan impersonator (left) shows off his skills to Miki Reiss, the coach of Israel's Special Olympics bowling team. (Photo: Tess Cutler)

Before the day’s end, Kornhauser was looking for a souvenir to bring home, perusing the aisles of yet another souvenir shop, combing through countless displays of keychains, shirts, mugs and magnets, when she finally found a worthy contender: a vinyl figurine of Lilo, from the Disney franchise "Lilo and Stitch."

She flipped the box over, inspected the quality (any dents or scrapes would be unacceptable), before making her ultimate decision. She’d return to Israel with a duffel bag filled with new medals accumulated from her competitions and, if all things looked good, also this figurine.

Of course, she wasn’t completely sold on the idea – she did a quick run around to make sure there wasn’t anything better – and although some plush Hello Kitty dolls were runner-ups, Lilo took home gold.

Gold-medal bowler Israeli Lin Kornhauser shops for the perfect 'Lilo and Stitch' memento to bring back home.Gold-medal bowler Israeli Lin Kornhauser shops for the perfect 'Lilo and Stitch' memento to bring back home. (Photo: Tess Cutler)

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In Hollywood, Special Olympians compete – and then take in the sights
Before they returned home, we spent an afternoon with the medal-winning champs of Israel's bowling team.