The 2018 Special Olympics USA Games opened in Seattle on Sunday at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium with a parade of athletes and musical performances and inspiring moments meant to showcase acceptance and inclusion.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was among the dignitaries who took the stage to offer encouraging words to those in attendance. The Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is the premier corporate partner for the Games.
Here are Nadella’s comments in full:
“It’s such an honor to be here today. The energy, the enthusiasm in this stadium is palpable and it’s incredible. On behalf of everyone at Microsoft I want to extend the warmest of welcomes to all of you to Seattle.
“Your courage, your spirit and the pursuit of passion are truly inspiring. We can’t wait to watch all your hard work and training come together as you compete this week. But Special Olympics is about much more than just sports and competition. It’s a model for building a more inclusive world. A world where everyone is celebrated for their unique abilities. A world where everyone is invited to participate.
“Being right here in Husky Stadium, I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, ‘The Boys in the Boat.’ It’s based on an inspiring story about a University of Washington crew team that against all odds made it to the 1936 Olympic Games and took home the gold. It’s a reminder of the power of teamwork and perseverance, and there’s a passage that’s fitting for us all here today. There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing, it’s called ‘the swing.’ It only happens when all the eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one of the team is out of sync with those of the others. An inclusive world — that’s what good swing looks like.
“Together you’re showing the world what is possible when we reflect the perspectives and the experiences to everyone. So enjoy the moment. You have achieved so much and you’re building such an amazing, inclusive world.”
More than 4,000 athletes and coaches from the across the United States are scheduled to compete in 14 team and individual sports across Seattle as the Games run through Friday. Tens of thousands of family members, volunteers and spectators have converged on the city.
Sunday’s festivities, broadcast live on ESPN, were emceed by actor Taye Diggs and featured musical performances by DJ Marshmello, Charlie Puth, Allen Stone and Heart’s Ann Wilson, who sang the “National Anthem.” The Seattle Seahawks’ Blue Thunder drum line participated and the team’s recent draft pick, Shaquem Griffin, served as grand marshall for the parade of athletes into Husky Stadium.
Microsoft President Brad Smith was among a number of executives who would be competing in the first-ever ESPN / Special Olympics Unified Sports Challenge at the UW’s Husky Ballpark later on Sunday.
The execs, their employees, celebrities and Special Olympics athletes — on teams of five people — were competing in multiple Unified Sports challenges including Hot Shot Basketball, Penalty Shot Soccer, Electronic Dance Game, Bocce, Inflatable Dart Board, Football Accuracy Challenge, Giant Memory Game and Golf Putting.
DocuSign also participated with a team led by CEO Dan Springer and Starbucks’ team was led by Vivek Varma, EVP for public affairs. Seattle sports celebs competing included Gary Payton, Steve Largent, Walter Jones, Apolo Ohno, Jim Zorn, Kasey Keller and more.
Microsoft’s Smith also took the stage at Husky Stadium as honorary chairman of the Games to offer his own comments in support of the athletes. Here are those comments in full:
“All of us in Seattle have been working for the last 2 1/2 years to get ready. To get ready for today. To welcome all of you and your family and your friends. We are so happy that you are here.
“Every time a city has the opportunity to host an Olympic event or a World’s Fair, it’s an opportunity not only to be a great host, but to create a legacy. Fifty-five years ago, Seattle hosted the World’s Fair and it built a legacy, an icon — the Space Needle, a symbol that people associate around the world with this place. But this week we will build a bigger legacy still. It is in each and every one of you.
“Together we have an opportunity to build a legacy of understanding, of appreciation, of commitment. A commitment for each of us to bring out the best in ourselves, to bring out the best in everyone around us. That is what each and every one of you represent.
“When we think about what we will all do this week, whether we’re competing or spectating and cheering all of you on, this is a week when we can do even more than rise together. We can stand together, we can stick together and more than anything else we can build together. Let’s build a legacy, a legacy that lasts.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee officially welcomed the Special Olympians to the state. In addressing the crowd, Inslee said everything needs to be done to fight back against the “dark forces” of fear that work against inclusion in society.
At the end of the Opening Ceremony, the Flame of Hope completed its journey to Seattle and into Husky Stadium. Jennifer Goodley, a 37-year-old powerlifter from Bremerton, Wash., took the final handoff and lit the official cauldron.
Griffin, the Seahawks’ inspiring rookie, who had a hand amputated as a young child, then declared the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games officially open.
If you want to follow the Games more closely throughout the week, a new, free mobile app was launched over the weekend. The app, developed by AppInteract on Microsoft’s Azure platform, features sports schedules, details on athletes and teams, venue information, events and news. Download for iOS or Android.
ESPN will also provide in-depth coverage throughout the week on its app and on ESPN.com. And ESPN3 will carry live streaming coverage from swimming competition taking place at the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center.