Special Olympics opening ceremony kicks off games in Vancouver

The largest Special Olympics ever held in Canada kicked off in Vancouver on Tuesday night with the opening ceremony at the UBC Thunderbird Sports Centre.

More than 2,000 athletes, coaches and officials are taking part in 11 sports, including golf and basketball

Thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and supporters packed into UBC Thunderbird Sports Centre to see the Special Olympics opening ceremony in Vancouver on Tuesday night. (CBC)

The largest Special Olympics ever held in Canada kicked off in Vancouver on Tuesday night with the opening ceremony at the UBC Thunderbird Sports Centre.

The Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games, which will feature more than 2,000 athletes, coaches and officials, starts Wednesday and goes through Saturday.

Participants will compete in 11 sports including athletics, basketball, bocce, five- and ten-pin bowling, golf, powerlifting, rhythmic gymnastics, soccer, softball and swimming.

Let me win, but if I do not win, let me be brave in the attempt. - Athlete's pledge at Special Olympics Canada 2014

Spokesperson Nicola Lambrechts said these games would be the biggest in Canadian history.

"We have three new sports at these games," said Lambrechts. "We have golf, bocce, and basketball is the third one, which certainly adds a whole lot more teams, a whole lot more athletes."

The opening ceremony featured an athletes' parade, music, dance — and a parade in by law enforcement officers, some of whom carried the Special Olympics torch across Canada.

Former Special Olympian Leonard Martin, who previously competed in bowling, speedskating and softball, said the games are a chance to give back through volunteering.

"It was a great event to be in. You get to travel. I've been in the nationals twice. And it's nice to see these people get involved and it's a great feeling," said Martin.

For the first time, the games will be live-streamed online, allowing Special Olympics supporters to watch some events through the ViaSport website.

So while competition gets fierce starting Wednesday, athletes will also be able to revel in the camaraderie of competition and achievement — and have plenty of people cheering them on.

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