By Martin Conaghan
BBC News, Shanghai
The spectacular opening ceremony for the Special Olympics World Summer Games has taken place in Shanghai, China.
And judging by the awe-inspiring display of traditional dance, music and pyrotechnics, Beijing will have a tough act to follow next year at the start of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Speaking to the 80,000 spectators, Special Olympics ambassador Arnold Schwarzenegger said the enthusiasm of the competitors involved in the games made them bigger heroes than those he played during his movie career.
"I used to play in action movies as the action hero but that was actually nothing that can be compared with the real action that is taking place in this stadium," said the California governor.
Chinese President Hu Jintao declared the Special Olympics Summer Games open, while Mr Schwarzenegger, film star Jackie Chan and Irish actor Colin Farrell greeted the ecstatic fans inside Shanghai's Olympic stadium.
The extravaganza began with an army of Chinese drummers heralding the special athletes from 160 countries into the arena, and ended with an awe-inspiring display of colourful pyrotechnics.
The show kick-started a nine-day sports event
The show was masterminded by multiple Emmy Award-winning producer Don Misher, famed for his half-time Superbowl shows and the opening ceremony for the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.
Every member of the audience was handed a lunch pack prior to entering the tightly guarded stadium, along with a seat-numbered box containing a torch, a flute, a scarf and a coloured fan for use during the stunning visual display.
Yang Jian, a 22-year old student who has lived in Shanghai all his life, said it was one of the most spectacular shows he had ever witnessed in the city.
"It is very difficult to chose a moment that was the best," said Yang.
"The whole show was very good, and I enjoyed the fireworks.
"It was amazing, I have never seen anything like it in Shanghai."
China's largest city will host 7,500 athletes from 160 countries for the Special Games, which encourages individuals with learning disabilities to participate in sport programmes across the globe.
Jane Moncrieff, the deputy head of the British delegation of athletes, said while the Shanghai performance was inspiring, it did not carry the same message as previous opening ceremonies.
"I think it was visually spectacular, in terms of colour and visual effects," she said.
"I've been at a number of these ceremonies in the past, and they're normally very emotional, but this one didn't seem to go in for that.
"It's maybe not the Chinese way to go in for emotion, but the colours were incredible, and it was expertly choreographed."
Aiden Montgomery, a 22-year-old from the East Midlands and part of the British swimming team, said the opening ceremony was the experience of a lifetime.
"I thought it was really fantastic," he said.
"We could hear all the chanting and whistling before we were introduced to the crowd, it was so exciting.
"I couldn't believe there were so many people, waving and whistling.
"It was amazing being introduced to the people in the stadium, just like a proper Olympic Games.
"Seeing the action stars like Arnold Schwarzenneger and Jackie Chan was great too, and the torch run was incredible, just like a real Olympics games.
"I'll cherish this for the rest of my life."
The athletes will now commence a nine-day programme of 25 sports in venues across the massive city, aided by an army of 40,000 volunteers.