VIDEO: Thousands cheer on athletes at Special Olympics National Games opening ceremony in Sheffield

Athletes show their support for the Blades.
Athletes show their support for the Blades.
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Hundreds of athletes from across the UK came together in Sheffield this evening to herald the start of the country’s biggest sporting event for people with learning disabilities.

The Special Olympics National Games officially kicked off with a soggy but star-studded opening ceremony at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium tonight.

Former Spandau Ballet singer Tony Hadley was the headline attraction, but the real highlight was the parade of the 2,600 athletes who will be competing across 20 sports around the city this week.

WATCH: Special Olympics National Games opening ceremony PART ONE / PART TWO
Groups from every region up and down the UK, from the Scottish Highlands to the South West, made their way in front of the Bramall Lane stands cheered on by thousands of spectators.

Some had only a few athletes, such as the four representing Grampion, while others had far more.

There was even a special delegation of 19 competitors who had made the long journey from Australia.

An athlete gets a high five from a Sheffield United official.

An athlete gets a high five from a Sheffield United official.

But the biggest cheer of the night was for the Yorkshire and the Humber group - the biggest with more than 200 athletes. They entered the stadium last, many chanting ‘Yorkshire, Yorkshire’ and waving the white rose flag. Some even sported Sheffield United scarves.

The delight at being part of the event was clear on the faces of all the athletes, despite the increasingly heavy rain. Many were filming and taking photos, and plenty carried banners saying hi to mum, dad and other friends and family.

Some played up to the cameras, mimicking the famous poses of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, while others were simply in awe of the occasion.

The torch relay, which began in Much Wenlock, Shropshire, two weeks ago, also came to an end last night as South Yorkshire Police chief constable Stephen Watson lit the Special Olympics flame.

The Yorkshire and the Humber team got a huge ovation.

The Yorkshire and the Humber team got a huge ovation.

Earlier in the day it had passed through Meadowhall, a key games sponsor, where centre director Darren Pearce said: “Sheffield is certainly no stranger to hosting large sporting events and I’m sure the city will welcome, watch and cheer the many athletes as they strive for gold this week.”

The flame passed through Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham as well as other towns in Yorkshire and the Humber on its way to Sheffield.

The opening ceremony also featured performances from a range of arts groups, under the direction of Sheffield’s Nathan Geering.

And city singing sensation Kyle Tomlinson, a finalist on Britain’s Got Talent, also got to perform.

The rain failed to dampen spirits.

The rain failed to dampen spirits.

For a full schedule of this year’s games visit sheffield2017.org.uk.

Thousands turned up to watch the parade.

Thousands turned up to watch the parade.

An athlete plays to the crowd.

An athlete plays to the crowd.

Spectators cheer on the athletes.

Spectators cheer on the athletes.