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Special Olympics Set to Open Saturday


More than 6,000 athletes from 165 countries have gathered in Los Angeles for the Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities.

Torch bearers carrying the Flame of Hope for the Special Olympics arrive at Los Angeles City Hall, July 24, 2015.

Torch bearers carrying the Flame of Hope for the Special Olympics arrive at Los Angeles City Hall, July 24, 2015.

The Special Olympics torch, called the Flame of Hope, is nearing the end of its journey of thousands of kilometers.

The torch procession is part of a fundraising effort for the Special Olympics movement by law enforcement agencies.

Saturday's opening ceremony for the games will be held at the opening site of the 1984 Summer Olympics, the Los Angeles Coliseum, where Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson lit the flame 31 years ago.

Johnson, who has been involved with the Special Olympics since its beginning, said sports competition teaches important lessons.

“I think in the long run, what we learn in sports helps us to be better athletes, but it also be life lessons taught that are going to help us, in a sense, be the best we can be in other places other than on the field of competition,” Johnson said.

The Special Olympics World Summer Games are held every four years in a different city. The last games were held in Athens. The competition features 25 sports, from aquatics to track.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, started the Special Olympics in 1968, and the movement has grown in influence. Today, it involves more than 4 million athletes worldwide.

Organizers have high hopes for the games in Los Angeles. Patrick McClenahan, president of the Special Olympics World Summer Games Los Angeles 2015, said Los Angeles "has incredible facilities. The diversity in Los Angeles is a great asset, and the ability to engage the media and the entertainment community” is a plus as well.

Special Olympics athlete Debi Anderson said the athletes have a message to send: "They will show the world what they can do instead of can't do.”

The opening ceremony will feature first lady Michelle Obama, and singer Stevie Wonder will headline a long list of entertainers. The show will be directed by actress and choreographer Debbie Allen, who said Special Olympians inspire her.

“It's so amazing to watch them do what they do," Allen said. "And when you hang out with them, spend a little time with them, and realize what they've been through and what they're doing, you understand that the issues you're having in your little life are not a a problem.”

Organizers say the Special Olympics emphasize achievement, acceptance and inclusion.

The games will run through August 2.

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