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Special Olympics kick off with unforgettable Coliseum spectacle

USC joins all of Los Angeles in welcoming nearly 7,000 athletes from around the world

Fireworks over the Coliseum
The night lights up as the Special Olympics World Games opening ceremonies draw to a close. (Photo/Robyn Beck, Getty Images)

Take nearly 7,000 athletes, add tens of thousands of cheering supporters and toss in a good helping of Olympic spectacle. Put it all together in a storied venue like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on a warm California evening, and you’ve got a Saturday to remember.

The Special Olympics World Games opening ceremonies marked yet another time that the historic Coliseum – host of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics – welcomed competitors from around the world.

Of course it wouldn’t be an LA event without a big name or two. TV personality Jimmy Kimmel greeted the crowd with a short monologue. Mayor Eric Garcetti was followed on stage by Eva Longoria. Olympians Nadia Comaneci, Michelle Kwan, Greg Louganis and Michael Phelps joined four Special Olympians to carry the Special Olympics flag. Oscar De La Hoya introduced headliner Stevie Wonder.

The biggest star of the night wasn’t a star at all: Michelle Obama, who called the competitors an inspiration.

You’re filling us with so much hope, and you’re uniting us in a way that nothing else can.

Michelle Obama

“You’re filling us with so much hope, and you’re uniting us in a way that nothing else can,” the first lady told the cheering crowd.

The traditional parade of nations – led by Greece, home of the first Olympic Games – had nearly 7,000 athletes from 165 countries making colorful entries to sometimes boisterous fans, ending with a rousing welcome for the home team.

Maria Shriver — a Trojan mom twice over — remembered her own mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics in 1968.

“Tonight she is so alive in this Coliseum … She is alive in the spirit of the Special Olympics,” said Shriver, who was introduced by her brother, Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver.

The evening wrapped up with singer Siedah Garrett performing “Reach Up LA,” which she wrote for the games. The Coliseum’s Olympic torch burned bright as fireworks lit up the sky.

Early competition

The games themselves actually began earlier in the day, with early morning basketball matchups at USC’s Galen Center. The competitions will continue through the week on the University Park Campus, around Los Angeles and along the Long Beach waterfront. The athletes and fans will return to the Coliseum on Aug. 2 for the event’s closing ceremonies.

The Coliseum – the only stadium in the world to have hosted two Olympics, a World Series and a Super Bowl – is operated by USC under a long-term contract with the city, county and state, which own the facility.

Special Olympics opening ceremonies

The crowd awaits Stevie Wonder, Michelle Obama and the lighting of the Olympic torch during the Special Olympics World Games opening ceremonies July 25. (USC Photo/David Medzerian)

Special Olympics kick off with unforgettable Coliseum spectacle

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