The opening ceremony took place on 2 October at Shanghai Stadium, where a Chinese singer sang 'I Know I Can', the official theme of the Games. After a troupe in traditional Chinese clothing performed a rhythmic dance, China's President Hu Jin-tao officially declared the Games open. The ceremony was divided into four sections, each meant to express one of the Games' four core values: courage, sharing, skill, and joy. During each part, the scale and importance of the festivities that were about to start were obvious. Just as importantly, the goodwill of the crowd, studded with international celebrities, was palpable. Ukraine's 36-member delegation, which participated in seven events, arrived in the company of First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko, who had two important missions during her trip - to support the athletes and to attend the grand opening of Shanghai University's Ukrainian language department on 5 October. "There are over a million mentally disabled people living in Ukraine, and they're isolated from our society," Yushchenko said. "If we call ourselves a European country we have to learn to be tolerant. I believe that a person who's lending a helping hand benefits even more than the person he's helping." The opening ceremony certainly was a good place to see famous people. Among the luminaries in the crowd were the Philippines' President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, actor Colin Farrell, pianist Lang Lang, NBA star Yao Ming, actor Jackie Chan, singer Vanessa Williams, and music legend Quincy Jones. It was one big happy celebrity family, and it was perhaps the good vibes it generated that inspired Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng to declare, "We're all different, but we have the same heartbeat." Indeed, the entire event was thick with positive feelings. Tim Shriver, chairman of the board of the Special Olympics, gave arguably the best speech of the night, telling the participants, "You know how to stand firm in the face of obstacles, how to fight and win. I want to be as brave as you are."
Despite California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's humourous scepticism that Shanghai could accommodate an event of this size - as he noted, 7500 athletes from 165 countries had arrived, accompanied by 40,000 volunteers and 80,000 spectators - the city did a great job. It opened its heart to the participants in a 10-day event in which the most important thing wasn't winning the most medals, but rather teaching tolerance, respect, and compassion. Consistent with that goal, the sports events were accompanied by a number of other consciousness-raising events, which was perhaps why a number of people known for their charity and humanitarian work showed up. Schwarzenegger's wife Maria Shriver, for example, arrived in Shanghai with her kids and her mother Eunice Kennedy-Shriver, who in the 1960s was instrumental in raising consciousness about the needs of the mentally disabled in the United States. Actually, the Gameshave traditionally been held in the United States, the country in which they were founded. These days, however, the impetus is to take the movement global. And the more global the show gets, the more fun it gets - the spectacle becomes more impressive, and more stars show up, circulating in such close proximity to the athletes and the spectators that you can almost touch them. "It's not even a competition now," Maria Shriver said at a 'family forum' associated with the Games on 3 October, "but a global family in which people learn how to live together and how to work as a team. It's important to share our experience with each other."
American society has already made strides in integrating the mentally disabled into the mainstream and making them feel loved and needed. Ukraine, as a developing society, is still somewhat behind. We're just beginning to understand how much the disabled require our constant support. For a Ukrainian reporter, it was touching to see mothers and their disabled kids - promising athletes - relate their life stories, making clear how difficult it could be for children to cope with their fears and failures as they strived to achieve something. The Special Olympics is one of the only chances disabled athletes have to show off what they've got and feel themselves to be integral members of society. There were no losers here. Each participant had already won - the first time when he or she dedicated himself or herself to the hard work of training, and the second time when making his or her respective national team. These athletes are examples to all of us, teaching us what it means to be committed to yourself and to others. That's why they're honoured by the Olympic torch.