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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 September 2007, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Shanghai set for opening ceremony
Martin Conaghan
By Martin Conaghan in Shanghai

Olympic Stadium
The 80,000-capacity Olympic Stadium in Shanghai will host the track events

The opening ceremony of the Special Olympics is only two days away, and already it's difficult not to be impressed by the sheer scale of the whole event.

Prior to making the trip here to Shanghai, I presumed we would be attending a small series of local sports events, albeit with a large contingent of participating athletes from around the globe.

However, as the days tick past and anticipation grows, the level of organisation becomes ever more apparent.

A vast army of volunteers greets the media wherever we go, helpful, co-operative and pleasant to the last.

The police and military guard the entrances to competition venues with impeccable uniforms and serious expressions.

"In a drill on Sunday night, the authorities actually set fire to the gymnastics stadium with 100 volunteers inside, to test their disaster response capabilities."

The services on offer at the media centre are on a par with that of a Commonwealth Games.

The Chinese authorities are taking no chances with their first opportunity to prove to the world's media that they can put on a party.

On the days leading up to the opening ceremony, the entire area around Shanghai's Olympic Stadium will be completely shut down to all traffic; a feat of management beyond comprehension in a city populated by 17million people.

Artifical rain suppressant systems are also in place - just in case poor weather attempts to ruin the first day.

And in a drill on Sunday night, the authorities actually set fire to the gymnastics stadium with 100 volunteers inside, to test their disaster response capabilities.

The opening ceremony itself will be directed by multiple-Emmy winner Don Misher, famed for his spectacular half-time Superbowl shows and the Atlanta Olympics opening display.

It promises to be bigger and better than anything staged before in China.

One thing is certain; the Special Olympics is on the cusp of a new era.

This is no longer a marginalised or tokenistic event, it's a humbling experience for observers, and the privilege is entirely ours, to be here with athletes who are representing themselves and their countries with dignity.

On Saturday afternoon, I met up with some of the British athletes who will be taking part in the games, including Andrew Gray from Dundee who will compete in the aquatics.

He had just returned from an organised visit to the home of a traditional Chinese family, who welcomed him with home-cooked food and gifts.

Andrew said he felt privileged to be in China for the Special Games.

"It's a great honour to be part of this team," said Andrew.

"We don't get much training as we've such a full programme in the host town, but we should start in the proper swimming next Wednesday which is hopefully going to be an absolutely brilliant time.

"I'm doing the 100 metre freestyle, the 25 metre butterfly and the 4x50 metre freestyle relay.

"I'll be slightly nervous but I'll get my head down and get on with it and we'll see what happens.

"Obviously if I win or get a medal, great, but it's just the taking part and showing the crowds you can do it.

"Even if I don't do it at least I've been there and tried it."

The Special Olympics opening ceremony will take place on 2 October. You can follow the preparations for Shanghai in a documentary on BBC2 Scotland on 3 October at 1900BST entitled Special Olympics: Scottish Stories which will also be available to view online.

Images from the Special Olympics
29 Sep 07 |  Disability Sport
Athletes arrive for Special Games
28 Sep 07 |  Disability Sport
Special athletes set for Shanghai
24 Sep 07 |  Disability Sport


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