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Special Olympics runner aims to bring home gold – just like his great-grandfather

Daniel Wolff has a shot at knowing the glory his great-grandfather felt nearly 80 years ago when he and three teammates ran a relay race in Berlin, winning Olympic gold in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

The 21-year-old Great Britain man will run the 4×100-meter relay in this summer’s Special Olympics World Games. His family is headed to Los Angeles to cheer him on, eager to see him follow in his great-grandfather’s fast footsteps to make history.

“I think it’s obviously great, the parallel between the two,” says Daniel’s father, Paul Wolff. “My grandfather would absolutely love it.”

Daniel is one of four athletes Microsoft is following as they train, travel to and compete in the games beginning later this month. Microsoft gave each a Surface Pro 3 and a Lumia 930 smartphone to help them reach for their personal best and document their incredible journey.

Daniel’s grandfather still has the medal won by his great-grandfather, Freddie Wolff, and keeps it as a treasured souvenir of the unforgettable triumph on the world stage in 1936. The Olympic champ later led a charity that helped kids and adults with special needs — a mission that means a lot to the family, in part because Daniel has autism.

“If he was around, he’d be a great support to Dan, there’s no question about that,” Paul Wolff says. “My grandfather was quite charismatic.”

Grainy black-and-white footage shows Freddie Wolff and teammates Godfrey Brown, Godfrey Rampling and Bill Roberts at the Olympics in Berlin, each man pumping limbs furiously to complete his leg of the race. The British team does not appear headed for victory until near the end, when a close finish brings rapt spectators to their feet.

British 4 x 400-meter relay 1936 Olympic gold medalists Godfrey Brown, Frederick “Freddie” Wolff, Godfrey Rampling and William Roberts. (Getty Images)
British 4 x 400-meter relay 1936 Olympic gold medalists Godfrey Brown, Frederick “Freddie” Wolff, Godfrey Rampling and William Roberts. (Getty Images)

Freddie Wolff died in 1988, before his great grandson was born, but one thing the relay runner seems to have passed along was a love of the sport. Daniel truly enjoys running – especially propelling his lean frame through the woods and along a scenic river in a park on the outskirts of London.

“I am a fast sprinter, and I do enjoy sprinting a lot more than long distance,” he says. “It feels like I’m going over the limit.”

He’s been training for his three events, the 400-meter and 800-meter races and the 4×100-meter relay, and has improved his personal best times in the past few months. He shaved eight and a half seconds off his best 800-meter time, an accomplishment his dad called “amazing.”

He was excited to record his time with his new Microsoft Band fitness tracker and looks forward to using it in cycling, another of his hobbies, as well.

Microsoft joined Special Olympics in a three-year, multimillion dollar partnership to modernize the nonprofit’s games management system, bringing it to the cloud, and donating more than 2,000 devices including PCs, laptops, tablets and Lumia phones to help track the events and connect volunteers.

Opening ceremonies are July 25 and will be broadcast live on ESPN, which will also have ongoing coverage of the events online.

His focus on training aside, Daniel recently moved out of his parents’ Worcester Park home and into his own apartment, and he just finished a one-year college program. “I was doing a work-skills course to help me find a job in the future,” he says. “I made quite a lot of friends.”

Daniel has breakfast in his apartment on the outskirts of London. (Photo courtesy of Wolff family)
Daniel has breakfast in his apartment on the outskirts of London. (Photo courtesy of Wolff family)

He’s never before been to the United States and says he’s “half excited and half nervous about going” to the games. He’s glad his many relatives — parents, brother, sister, grandparents and more — will be joining him and admits he probably wouldn’t want to make the journey without their support.

Paul Wolff looks forward to having much of their extended family attend the global event, where about 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from around the world will compete. He is excited that his son has such a great opportunity.

“To me it’s not so much about the disability; it’s about the ability of the person,” he says, adding that his son’s remarkable ability is “to do some great running.”

Daniel says he’s been enjoying running and training with others to be in top form for the games.

“They help me learn quite a lot,” he says. “It’s very fantastic.”

Learn more about the Microsoft partnership with Special Olympics.


Lead photo, left to right: Daniel Wolff on the track (Photo by Jeremy Nako/NakPhotography), a Special Olympics portrait of him (Courtesy of Special Olympics) and Daniel with friend and fellow runner Ben Lawrence.