LOS ANGELES — Tens of thousands turned out Saturday for the opening ceremony of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The event got underway about 6:30 p.m. with stilt walkers and tumblers leading the parade of athletes into the noisy stadium. The delegation from Greece arrived first, as is traditionally the case in the Olympic Games.

President Barack Obama, via video, welcomed the participants and their fans. When Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a summer camp in her backyard 50 years ago, Obama said, no one knew how successful it would become.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

First lady Michelle Obama was in attendance and made remarks toward the end of the ceremony.

“I just want you to know that all those people won’t just be cheering for you, they’re going to be learning from you,” Obama told the athletes. “They’re going to be inspired by you.”

The delegations’ uniforms displayed all manner of colors, ranging from canary yellow to fire-engine red to Austria’s rose and white.

The athletes walked in as their nations were called in alphabetical order and were led to white folding chairs lined up in neat rows on the field. The small delegation from Cuba got a big cheer from the crowd, but the Mexico delegation drew an even bigger response.

Shortly before the athletes’ parade began, comedian Jimmy Kimmel injected some humor into the proceedings. He said he hoped the teams from other nations had brought water “because L.A. doesn’t have any.”

The Special Olympics mean a lot to Jamie Meyer, whose daughter Lucy has cerebral palsy and has been an active spokesperson leading up to the games. “This is to show the world the importance of accepting and including people with disabilities,” she said.

More than 6,500 athletes from 165 countries are expected to compete in the games at various venues around the city through Aug. 2.

The games are being billed as the largest-ever gathering of nations in the city — the 1984 Summer Olympics hosted 140 countries.

Throughout the afternoon, celebrity athletes and stars of screens small and large ambled along a blue carpet outside the nearby Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. They posed for photographers and repeated how delighted they were to be celebrating the games.

Maria Shriver radiated excitement and glamour in black-and-ivory pants and jacket. Her mother believed sports could unify communities and was intent on giving people like her sister, who had an intellectual disability, the opportunity to explore their physical talents. She launched the Special Olympics movement in 1962.

Ben Vereen, Vanessa Williams, Rafer Johnson, swimmer Donna de Varona, Los Angeles Lakers great James Worthy and towering Dikembe Mutombo, a 7-foot-2 former NBA player from Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, were among those stopping to be interviewed by diminutive Caley Versfelt, 24, of Manhattan Beach, who served as a global messenger for the games.

At a reception inside the history museum, members of athletic delegations from around the world mingled with celebrities and sponsors and nibbled on beef sliders and rice noodles amid the tableaux of caribou and Dall’s sheep in the North American Mammal Hall.

The first international Special Olympics were held in Chicago in 1968. The movement now serves more than 4 million people around the world.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Corina Knoll contributed to this report.

© 2015 Los Angeles Times
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Read more stories like this one. Sign up for Disability Scoop's free email newsletter to get the latest developmental disability news sent straight to your inbox.