President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias last night officially declared the start of the Athens 2011 World Summer Special Olympics in what some say was a spectacular opening ceremony last night that was staged at the Panathinaikon Stadium, the venue of the first modern 1896 Olympic Games. The Athens Special Olympics opening ceremony, that lasted almost three hours, was an impressive and heart-warming event that ended with a spectacular array of fireworks.Greece’s ability to once again stage a wonderful international show was only reaffirmed with the elegant mix of music and dance performances that were inspired by ancient Greek mythology, history and culture.
The opening ceremony began with a music performance of volunteers and Special Olympic athletes using ancient Greek type clay urns as musical instruments. At the end of their performance they threw them down to the ground “back inside the arms of mother earth” in a symbolic representation of breaking down the walls of prejudice against intellectually disabled people.
Accompanied by co-host Vanessa Williams, a moving performance was
given by living pop legend Stevie Wonder.
After a video tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver who founded the Games in 1968, her son and current Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver and Greek Special Olympics Organizing Committee President Joanna Despotopoulou addressed the event, and welcomed the world to “a celebration of human strength at the birthplace of the Olympic Games.”
Despite a difficult time in Greek history, debt-ridden “Greece has not failed the Special Olympics athletes and our athletes will not fail Greece,” chanted Shriver. He called on all citizens across the globe to unite and support a revolution of dignity under way by courageous people who were depicted as modern Ulysses — sailors on a ship who overcome harsh adventures in one of the theatre performances of the show.
Following the raising of the Special Olympics flag, with the music of Greece’s own Stefanos Korkolis, the stadium’s cauldron was ignited with the Flame of the Hope which will now burn until the end of the Games.
The ceremony ended with the performance of the song of the Games
by Greek singer Alkistis Protopsalti and Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo
in Stefanos Korkolis’ composition “Its a Wonderful Winning World”
The flame, which was lit under the Acropolis hill on June 9 and travelled Greece and neighbour countries, was transferred inside the arena on a “Chariot of the Sun” led by seven torch bearers who represented regions of the globe, children holding balloons and olive tree branches, as well as artists in Greek traditional costumes. The ceremony ended with the performance of the song of the Games by Greek singer Alkistis Protopsalti and Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, paving the way for the major show the Special Olympic athletes will give in the coming hours during the largest international multi-sport event of the year.
HISTORY OF OLYMPIC GAMES PRESENTED
More than 7,500 Special Olympics athletes from well over 183 countries, are to participate in the games that will run until July 4 in a string of 30 venues across Athens.
Starting today, they will begin competing in some 22 sporting events, sending the world the message that persons with special needs can and are fully able to be valuable members of the international community.
Approximately 40,000 family members, over 2,300 coaches and 25, 000 volunteers stand by their side, while around 3,000 journalists from across the world record the feats of the athletes who represent four million people with intellectual disabilities across the globe.
When a dream comes true – Stefanos Korkolis (Special Olympics Athens 2011)
The concept of the games is by creator Fokas Evangelinos and his creative team, that consist of composer Stefanos Korkolis, stage designer Ilias Ledakis, costume designer Elli Papageorgakopoulou and copyrighter Theodore Grigoriadis, together with Simon Graveling (Project Manager) and Andrew Walsh (Executive Producer), whose experience creating many of the world’s most memorable events includes the 2004 Olympic Games here in Athens.
At a press conference just before the ceremonies began, bright and beautiful, American television presenter of Greek descent Maria Menounos said she recognized how difficult the economic situation in Greece is and how these Games could send a message of optimism and hope to the country that gave birth to sports. “I hope the stadium fills up tonight because it’s a wonderful feeling to be involved in these Games,” she noted.
Special Olympics Opening Ceremony Athens 2011 sea dancers
It’s a great opportunity and honor for me to sing for these special athletes of the Special Olympics. After the death of my mother, I had stopped singing for a while, but the Special Olympics athletes gave me the inspiration to continue,” said living legend Stevie Wonder.
Our athletes are the best in the world and deserve our applause,” said Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, while Special Olympics Hellas President Johanna Despotopoulou said that that world is defined not by those who are left out but by those who participate in it.
MARIO FRANGOULIS AND MARIA MENOUNOS
“The Special Olympics family is huge and tries to create an environment of human dignity. I thank you for coming from all over the world to applaud our athletes. I would like to ask all of you to join me in repeating the motto of the Games, ‘I’m in, Despotopoulou added.
Tenor Marios Frangoulis said he was proud to be Greek and that his home country is hosting these Games. He thanked Fokas Evangelinos for designing the opening ceremony, where “every athletes recreates the saga of Odysseus.”
On his part, tenor Vittorio Grigolo noted that “it is a unique opportunity to give and receive love. We as artists should bring out the spirit and feelings we have inside us. The Greeks watching these athletes must draw strength and believe there is a better future ahead.””
Finally, model and actress Vanessa Williams said she is proud that since 1992 she has participated in the Special Olympics movement, which shines a light throughout the world.
To watch the Games: In the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, you can watch the Opening and Closing Ceremonies LIVE on www.ESPN3.com and www.ESPN3.com/au on June 25 and July 4, respectively. Or if you have Greek satellite TV then simply check the listings on ERT channel.
On your Mobile Device – In the U.S. simply text “Athens” to 51500 and in Greece you can text “Athens” to 447786201765. You will receive a text message to check the mobile-friendly site at http://m.specialolympics.org/Athens. Bookmark it and check it daily for updates! Text STOP to cancel. Text HELP for information. Data and message rates may apply. (Note: the “A” in “Athens” must be capital to work properly)