Special Olympics Returns to the Birthplace of Sport in a Historic Opening Ceremony

June 25, 2011

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Mandy Murphy                                               
mamurphy@specialolympics.org

+202.824.0227

Legendary Stevie Wonder Performs For Crowd

ATHENS, GREECE -  “I think we’re home,” said Dr. Timothy P. Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics as he welcomed an enthusiastic crowd to the historic Kallimarmaron Panthinaikon Olympic Stadium - site of the first Olympic Games of the modern era - on a beautiful summer night in Athens, Greece.

“Let me extend my thanks to the people of Greece,” Shriver continued.  “Despite all the difficulties and challenges this country is facing, Greece did not fail us and the athletes of Special Olympics will not fail Greece!”

Shriver and Special Olympics World Summer Games Organizing President Joanna Despotopoulou greeted the audience.  Then the moment everyone was waiting for, the parade of athletes, began as more than 7,000 athletes from nearly 180 nations made their way into the stadium to roaring applause from the fans.

As Special Olympics athletes and coaches from across the world settled in to the stadium, everyone welcomed legendarysinger, songwriter, musician and producer Stevie Wonder.  Stevie opened with his song ‘You can feel it’ followed by ‘You are the sunshine of my life’ which got the crowd on their feet and dancing. Wonder, one of the great personalities in music history, spoke to the audience about the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics: “Her vision has helped the world appreciate the value of all human beings. Eunice made us understand that we are all special.  Our dreams are only limited by our vision.”

Wonder also performed a duet of the song ‘That’s what friends are for’ with longtime Special Olympics supporter and recording artist Vanessa Williams.  Williams co-hosted the show with tenor Mario Frangouli. 

Greek history was in the air as a rendition of Homer's "Odyssey" was performed followed by fireworks and applause. Other highlights included performances by singing sensation Alkistis Protopsalti, tenor Vittorio Grigolo, and also special presentations by actress Zhang Ziyi and actress Maria Menounos.

His Excellency Dr. Karolos Papoulias, Hellenic Republic President then declared the Games officially opened, at which time the Special Olympics flag was walked in to the stadium carried by Pyros Dimas, Nadia Comaneci, Edwin Moses, Michelle Kwan, Jermaine Edie, Ana Miliovojevic and Ana Eduarda.

Members of Special Olympics Team Hellas and Special Olympics Team USA lead the athletes in the Special Olympics athlete oath and finally the Flame of Hope was run through the stadium.  Law enforcement officers from across the globe helped usher the torch in through the hands of athletes representing all seven Special Olympics regions of the world.  Finally the torch was lit to mark the start of the Games.

Special Olympics World Summer Games Athens 2011 are now officially under way.  For the next 10 days, from 25 June to 4 July, more than 7,000 Special Olympics Athletes from nearly 180 countries around the world will compete in the largest international multi-sport event of the year, featuring 22 Olympic-type sports.

About Special Olympics
Special Olympics is an international organization that changes lives through the power of sport by encouraging and empowering people with intellectual disabilities, promoting acceptance for all, and fostering communities of understanding and respect worldwide. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown from a few hundred athletes to more than 3.7 million athletes in over 170 countries in all regions of the world, providing year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programs.  Special Olympics now takes place every day, changing the lives of people with intellectual disabilities in places like China and from regions like the Middle East to the community playgrounds and ball fields in every small neighborhood’s backyard.  Special Olympics provides people with intellectual disabilities continuing opportunities to realize their potential, develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, and experience joy and friendship. Visit Special Olympics at www.specialolympics.org. Engage with us on: Twitter @specialolympics; fb.com/specialolympics; youtube.com/specialolympicshq, and specialolympicsblog.wordpress.com.

World Games website:  www.athens2011.org
World Games Press Twitter:  www.twitter.com/athens2011media

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