Special Olympics kick off with celebrations, flame dedication

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Lots of excitement at Toyota Park as celebrations continue for the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary.

Their competitive spirit fuels them. The outcome of their efforts bringing so many emotions.

Ecuador advanced to the next round over Nigeria in the Special Olympics Unified Cup.

It's all part of their 50th anniversary celebrations of the first Special Olympics Games held in Chicago at Soldier Field in 1968.

The first-ever Special Olympics Unified Cup Games happened Friday at Toyata Park. The inaugural soccer invitational tournament featuring 24 global Unified teams (16 male and eight female teams), each including players with and without intellectual disabilities playing alongside each other.

Chicago is the birthplace of the Special Olympics. Earlier Friday, the Eternal Flame of Hope was lit outside Soldier Field.

Despite the gloomy and rainy weather, celebrations and games have been taking place all day.
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Lots of excitement at Toyota Park as celebrations continue for the Special Olympics 50th Anniversary.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers from across the country gathered along the lakefront Friday morning for a run to carry the Special Olympics torch in its final leg of its journey to the Eternal Flame of Hope.

"I know it landed and I know law enforcement is bringing it and when I do see it I just hope I don't pass out," said Special Olympics Founder Justice Anne Burke.

Justice Anne Burke can't believe 50 years have gone by since the first Special Olympics games were held right here in Chicago.

"Just standing here at Soldier Field at the very time at the very day that happened 50 years ago. There are no words to express it," said Justice Burke.

A new 7,000-pound sculpture near Solider Field symbolizes the Special Olympic theme of inclusion and unity. The 7,000-pound sculpture was designed by Chicagoan Richard Hunt and will be a permanent, 30-foot monument. It is all in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Special Olympic games held at Soldier Field on July 20, 1968.

"That is the really special part that the athletes are wrapping their heads around that this sculpture, this flame, will be here forever, always showing the passion of the athletes and the joy that the families get for all the athletics," said Kevin Magnuson,
Special Olympics Chicago President.

"It is fun to spread all the athletes around the world to be involved in the 50th anniversary," said athlete Barbara Kozdron.

Over the next 50 years, the goal is to break down more barriers for those living with disabilities.

"That is what the movement has done. It has changed the stigma for persons with intellectual differences. I hope it continues for the next 50 plus years," said Justice Burke.

"We need to do more. We need to more for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. We need to more to get them active. We need to do more with jobs," said Chicago Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly.

Organizers are remembering the past but also looking towards the future.

"I hope Special Olympics won't have to be special anymore. I hope it is just the way society treats everybody with differences. Who cares what differences you have. We should treat each other equally. That is what I hope and pray for," said Justice Burke.
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Hundreds of police officers ran alongside the Special Olympics flame during the Torch Run Friday morning.

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