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Special Olympics World Games kick off in Berlin

As the “Flame of Hope” was lit in the Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany 6,500 Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners (those athletes without intellectual disabilities) from 176 delegations united in taking the Special Olympics oath promising, “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” After the flame was lit, the President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023 open in front of 50,000 spectators including 3,000 coaches and officials and 18,000 volunteers.

The star-studded Opening Ceremony was broadcast worldwide to 190 countries. The three-hour telecast from Olympiastadion captured the spectacle and pageantry of the Opening Ceremony and featured vignettes sharing incredible stories of several athletes from around the globe.

Channel 1

A colorful and exciting show program culminated with the performance of the official Games song, “Are You Ready” by the Norwegian duo Madcon. Highlights of the Opening Ceremony included the Parade of Athletes, performances by Erika Ender, Blue Man Group, a unified choir, and the final leg of the Law Enforcement Torch Run staged by a team of 85 international Torch runners including 77 law enforcement volunteers and eight Special Olympics athletes representing their home countries. The Final Leg team was accompanied by 10 German Police Officers and 30 German athletes. Remarks by President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy Shriver, Minister for the Interior and Homeland, Nancy Faeser, Special Olympics Germany President Christiane Krajewski, Vice President, Athlete Spokesperson and Global Messenger of Special Olympics Germany Mark Solomeyer, and Governing Mayor of Berlin Kai Wegner. The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz was also in attendance at the ceremony.

“This is very much about sports, but of course not only about sports. It’s about inclusion. It’s about participation. And that’s why I’m quite sure that we, as a society, can learn a great deal beyond the sport that we’ll be seeing over the next week. Not only that people with disabilities have something to gain from inclusion, but that we as a society also become richer when we live inclusion,” Steinmeier said.

Addressing the athletes from around the globe, Special Olympics Chairman Dr. Timothy Shriver said, “We’ve been away from each other for too long. You know what it’s like to be isolated and to be told don’t come out. You are the experts of turning every form of pain and trauma into triumph. Your smiles are shining as bright as the stars tonight. I couldn’t be more proud of all of you. To the world, I challenge you, if you are searching for a reason to believe, come to Berlin and see how we overcome.”

Nancy Faeser, Federal Minister of the Interior and Homeland stated, “This is the greatest sports event we’ve seen here for many, many years. Sports can drive inclusion, and together, we are strong. Berlin is happy to host and see the athletes achieve great things!”

One of the highlights of the Opening Ceremony was the Parade of Athletes, which weaved its way through the Marathon Gate into the stadium. Each delegation was asked to bring water from their home country. One member from each delegation then broke away from their team to pour this water into a watercourse, forming an Olympic River, standing as a symbol for the unity of all of those participating at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023. All delegations were cheered loudly as they entered the iconic stadium – especially, of course, the home delegation from Germany at the end of the parade.

On behalf of the athletes, Ralf Andrasch, a footballer from Heilbronn in Germany, declared the Special Olympics oath and promised: “Let me win, but if I can’t win, let me be brave.” The oath for the officials and technical delegates was declared by Trent Hampton (Special Olympics USA athlete and Official in athletics), while Gao Chengshuang from China performed the duty for the coaches. 

The evening concluded with a spectacular firework display which illuminated the Berlin night sky, providing spectators and viewers across the world with a truly memorable denouement to a night that will live long in the memory. Let the Games begin!

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