February 21, 1977 12:00 PM

Steamboat Springs, Colo. has seen its share of downhill racers and Olympic heroes. That helps explain why the cozy resort responded so warmly to 522 brave competitors from 38 states and Canada who assembled recently for a unique winter sports jamboree. The occasion was the First International Winter Special Olympics, sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. What made it special was that the contestants, ranging in age from 9 to 75, are mentally retarded.

Cheered on by the Kennedy women (Ethel, Joan, Jean and Eunice), plus invited celebrities from film, TV and sports, the Special Olympians competed in skiing, ice skating, snowball throwing, snowshoeing, pole throwing and other adapted games. At the end, a famous Mouse from the Disney studios was on hand to pass out awards.

The Special Olympics, says its originator, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, has helped the public overcome its ignorance about the handicapped. The kids, she notes, are themselves lessons in “the kind of guts and courage it takes to start anew each day.”

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