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World Games in Full Swing

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RALEIGH — The1999 Special Olympics World Summer Gamesare officially underway after a spectacular opening ceremony Saturday night. A packed house of 50,000 spectators filled Raleigh's Carter-Finley Stadium.

Cheering fans welcomed the athletes as they took part in the parade of nations. Many of the audience members were family members of athletes, who waited for hours to watch their loved ones walk in.

The highlight of the opening ceremonies was the lighting of the Flame of Hope.

Athletes from several countries ran the torch into the stadium. North Carolina athlete Monte Daniels raised the flame to light the cauldron.

Athletes, family members, volunteers and fans were not the only ones in the audience. Some celebrities lent their star power as entertainers and special guests. Many of them have been involved in Special Olympics before.

Super model Kathy Ireland was a part of the 1995 World Games. That's where she met North Carolina marathoner Billy Quick.

"You know, getting to know athletes like Billy has truly changed my life," says Ireland. "They are so inspiring -- the dedication they have, the enthusiasm, and being able to show off their abilities."

Comedian and actor Billy Crystal hosted the event. Singer Stevie Wonder and pop group Sugar Ray performed. Actress Sharon Lawrence, Arnold Schwartzenegger and Maria Shriver were also part of the event.

Competition is now underway at two dozen venues across the Triangle.

Athletes squeezed insome practice on Saturdaybefore the opening ceremonies.

Softball teams from all over the world hit the field at Walnut Creek while gymnasts practiced their routines at the Raleigh Convention Center.

Athletes say the competition is important, but so are the lasting friendships that the they are making.

In addition to the sporting events, the World Games Festival is also under way at Meredith College. The seven-day event features live entertainment, and international villages to visit. Each day of the festival revolves around a theme celebrating North Carolina. The event is free and open to the public. andAdrianne Traxinger

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Lynn French, Photographer
Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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