Arts & Entertainment

Special Olympics 2015 FAQ: Where, when and how to enjoy the games in Los Angeles

Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
South Pasadena welcomes its host team for the Special Olympics.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Special Olympics Team Paraguay practices soccer at South Pasadena High School Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Team Paraguay warms up with team stretches at South Pasadena High School Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Team Paraguay warms up for soccer practice at South Pasadena High School Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Bridgette, Jonathan and Carissa Klaus cheer on the Special Olympics team from Paraguay.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Team Paraguay poses for a photo in its host town, South Pasadena, Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Local businesses came out to welcome Special Olympic teams in South Pasadena Wednesday, July 22, 2015.
Kristen Lepore/KPCC
Fireworks explode over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Opening Ceremony, July 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, will be the single largest event in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympics, with more that 7,000 athletes from 165 countries participating. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck        (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
In this April 16, 2015, file photo, the 2015 Special Olympics World Games medals are unveiled for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games at the LA84 Foundation in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes/AP


What is it? | Ways to watch | Getting there | 3 events to see

Following a bumpy night of travel and accommodation problems for some of this year's competitors, the Special Olympics World Games got underway in Los Angeles July 25 and run through Aug. 2.

Photos: Michelle Obama opens Special Olympics in Los Angeles

These are the first games to be held in the United States in 16 years. The competition will draw thousands of athletes with intellectual disabilities from 177 countries to compete in 25 different sports, according to the Special Olympics organization. 

Seven thousand athletes will participate in this year's games, according to the organization. They'll be supported by 3,000 coaches, 30,000 volunteers, 5,000 "honored guests," and an estimated 500,000 spectators. 

The athletes range in age from 8 to 71, according to the Associated Press. The United States has the largest delegation, according to Special Olympics USA, with 481 representatives. That includes 300 athletes.

Here's some background on the Special Olympics and a few highlights to check out:

What is the Special Olympics?

The Special Olympics is an organization that holds sporting events for people of all ages with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics World Games, held every four years, features competitors facing each other in various age- and skill-based divisions. The top finishers receive gold, silver and bronze medals, but every competitor gets a participant ribbon and gets to stand on the victory platform. The emphasis at the Special Olympics is on inclusion over competition.

The event was created by President John F. Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver to help those with intellectual disabilities live fuller lives. She held the first pilot version in her own backyard before it became an international event in 1968.

“Shriver had the idea that if lives of intellectually-disabled athletes had the opportunity to be faced with situations like the rest of us, that this would help them in the real world," Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson said at a news conference.

Johnson also founded California Special Olympics. “She wanted the lives of intellectually disabled to be enhanced," Johnson said. "There are probably many lonely intellectually-disabled athletes who sat alone in a room, who have nothing to do. They needed the opportunity to be more, to be the best they could be."

When does it start?

You can see the full Special Olympics World Games schedule here. Various entertainment and ceremonies leading to the athletic events began Saturday, July 25. The Special Olympics also offers a free app to help you make your own schedule.

Saturday's events kicked off with basketball, aquatics, track-and-field, bocce ball, soccer and tennis in the morning. Final events are Saturday, Aug. 1. Those will include the half-marathon, powerlifting, sailing and more. The closing ceremonies will cap the games on Sunday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m.

How can I see the Special Olympics events?

Attend in person 

Watch on TV

Volunteer

How can I get there?

Drive 

Take Metro

3 events to watch:

1. Golf | Wilson & Harding Golf Courses | Dates & Times

Oliver Doherty profile

The Special Olympics includes athletes of all different skill levels with intellectual disabilities. The Special Olympics' Peter Wheeler called attention at a news conference to Ireland's Oliver Doherty as one of the Games' great stories. Doherty has a five handicap in golf.

"He had a single mother who was killed in a single car accident and because of the accident, Oliver was born. They had to use forceps during the birth, which caused brain damage and he was paralyzed," Wheeler said.

Doherty went on to be placed in an orphanage until he was adopted by a pub bouncer, Wheeler said. They watched golf together and Doherty's father encouraged him to squeeze a golf ball to strengthen his arms, before going out and playing golf.

"When Oliver was 14 years old, he was considered the best golfer in Ireland for his age. He was picked on by people who were not his friends, and they broke his fingers on both hands. He fought back, got involved with Special Olympics and in 2003 won his first event," Wheeler said. Doherty won the gold in those 2003 Special Olympics.

“Oliver is not a person with disabilities. He's a great golfer."

2. Sailing | Belmont PierDates & Times

Athletes will take to the water in Long Beach beginning Monday to compete in the 5 level sailing competitions. 

ESPN features the story of Greece's Ioannis Stratigopoulos, who said sailing has given him the opportunity to become a leader.

"When I'm out on the water, I am happy," Stratigopoulos said.  "In other words, I'm in a boat and my life changes in that boat. And my life is good."

3. Powerlifting | Los Angeles Convention Center | Dates & Times

In downtown L.A., beginning Monday and running through the week, athletes will compete on pumping iron in the squat, bench press, deadlift and combination categories. The events will feature 4-time Special Olympian Jackie Barrett, 41, who will attempt to add to his 10 gold medals. 

"The one thing people can learn from me," he says, is that "people with developmental disabilities or people with mental challenges have great potential to accomplish anything in life."