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Bill Sorenson is a seasoned Special Olympics coach. His athletes have won dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals during his eight years of coaching.

But winning isn't everything, Sorenson will tell you."The rewarding part is watching these kids' self-esteem just burst open and really grow," he said.

Sorenson was on hand for opening ceremonies of the 1991 Utah Special Olympics Winter Games Thursday night and recalled memories of competitions past.

"We worked with one young man most of the year and got him to the point where he could do one lap around the speed skating rink," he said. "When he stood on the winner's platform and received his medal, you could just see the self-esteem rise up and ripple into a huge smile."

More than 1,000 athletes will participate in this year's games. About 800 of them attended the opening ceremonies Thursday and proudly displayed medals and ribbons they had won during the day's competitions.

Kirk Oviatt, at 30, is a seasoned pro (18 years of Special Olympics) who took the fanfare of winning his 38th medal in stride.

"Yep, I guess I have 38 now. It's OK, I guess," he said. Oviatt also added a winner's ribbon Thursday to his collection of 115. The athlete from Emery County will be one of six Utahns competing in bowling at the international Special Olympics in Minneapolis, Minn., later this year.

Prior to the ceremonies, dozens of Special Olympians gathered in the lunch room at Butler Middle School. They took pictures of each other, talked excitedly about their day and watched a video of their training and performances.

"Wow! I'm strong, I can really do it!" one athlete announced as he watched himself lift training weights.

Most of Sorenson's 22 athletes train four to five months for the Winter Games. He said he has spent hundreds of hours coaching, instructing and "just taking care" of them.

"Sometimes I get frustrated - it's a lot of work," he said. "But when the next year rolls around, I'm always ready to do it all over again."

The athletes will compete through Saturday in bowling, figure and speed skating, alpine and nordic skiing and floor hockey.

Closing ceremonies will be at Brighton Ski Area Saturday at 4 p.m.