ATHENS, Greece, June 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a ceremony honoring the spirit of the Special Olympics movement and the courage of its athletes, the "Flame of Hope" for the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games was lit today in Athens, Greece, officially launching the Global Law Enforcement Torch Run. Carried by a team of Special Olympics athletes and law enforcement officers through the streets of Athens, the torch now departs Greece to begin its global journey to the site of the World Games in Shanghai, China, supported by the expertise of Global Torch Run sponsor DHL, the world's leading express delivery and logistics company. The Global Law Enforcement Torch Run will be a pivotal event in the lead- up to the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games. While the Torch Run has been a Special Olympics tradition for more than 25 years, this marks the first time the "Flame of Hope" has traveled the globe in a single event. Transported via DHL's global logistics network and then carried by torch on the ground by teams of athletes and law enforcement personnel from around the world, the flame will travel more than 35,000 kilometers (22,000 miles), touching down on five continents over the next three months before arriving in Shanghai, where it will ignite the cauldron at the Opening Ceremony of the 2007 World Games on 2 October. The flame itself was lit just after 11 a.m. local time this morning (4 a.m. ET in North America) using the rays of the sun at the sacred site of Pnyx, located across from the Acropolis, in a ceremony hosted by Special Olympics Greece and attended by Anna Benaki-Psarouda, President of the Greek Parliament, Special Olympics International Chairman Timothy P. Shriver, Natasa Karamanlis, wife of the Prime Minister of Greece, DHL Express Asia Pacific Acting CEO Dan McHugh, Coca-Cola President and Chief Operating Officer Muhtar Kent, senior representatives of the 2007 Games Organizing Committee, government and diplomatic officials from China and Greece, law enforcement officers, and Special Olympics athletes and their supporters. The flame will next make its way to Egypt, where welcoming ceremonies and Torch Run celebrations will take place in Alexandria and Cairo. Other stops on the route will include London, Washington D.C., and a dozen cities throughout China as well as the 19 districts of Shanghai. "The Special Olympics movement provides a unique global platform for acceptance and inclusion, and the Flame of Hope's journey around the world is symbolic of our mission to not only give new hope to Special Olympics athletes and their families, but also to break down barriers and create awareness for social change around the world," said Shriver. "We are pleased to be partnering with DHL to help us honor our athletes for their tremendous courage and commitment -- on the field of play and in every aspect of their lives. We are also extremely appreciative for the continued commitment and support by the international law enforcement community on behalf of the Torch Run." "DHL's sponsorship endorses Special Olympics as a catalyst for social change by promoting fair opportunities and supporting diversity, which is part of our corporate values," said McHugh. "We hope to reinforce the spirit of determination, mental endurance and physical stamina among individuals, including our staff. Just as Special Olympics athletes triumph over all obstacles to compete on this world stage, DHL is committed to overcome logistics challenges to move the flame around the globe, sharing the vision of hope with the Special Olympics athletes." The 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai will host almost 7,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from more than 160 countries. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is Special Olympics' largest grass-roots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle, involving more than 85,000 law enforcement officials around the world. Following the 2007 World Games, the "Flame of Hope" will reside at a DHL facility as a tribute to Special Olympics. DHL will also sponsor the Global Torch Run in 2009, when the "Flame of Hope" will again be lit in Athens and transported by DHL to the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Boise, Idaho, USA. The Olympic torch was lit in Athens for the first time in 1896, and today continues to serve as a symbol of strength and determination for athletes from around the world. Special Olympics recently announced its 2011 World Summer Games will be held in Athens. About Special Olympics Special Olympics is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and competition to 2.5 million adults and children with intellectual disabilities across 165 countries. The Special Olympics movement offers one of the world's greatest platforms for acceptance and inclusion for all people -- regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or cultural differences. Find out how you can become involved at http://www.specialolympics.org. About DHL DHL is the global market leader of the international express and logistics industry, specializing in providing innovative and customized solutions from a single source. DHL offers expertise in express, air and ocean freight, overland transport, contract logistic solutions as well as international mail services, combined with worldwide coverage and an in-depth understanding of local markets. DHL's international network links more than 220 countries and territories worldwide. 285,000 employees are dedicated to providing fast and reliable services that exceed customers' expectations. DHL is a Deutsche Post World Net brand. The group generated revenues of more than euro 60 billion in 2006. For the latest news and happenings about DHL in Asia Pacific, please visit http://press.ap.dhl.com About the Law Enforcement Torch Run The Law Enforcement Torch Run has been a Special Olympics tradition for more than 25 years. It began in 1981 when Wichita, Kansas, Police Chief Richard LaMunyon saw a need to raise funds and increase awareness for the organization, and conceived the Torch Run as a way to involve local law enforcement personnel in the community and to support Special Olympics Kansas. The program was later adopted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and under their support and leadership has expanded into all 50 U.S. states and to 35 nations. The Law Enforcement Torch Run is Special Olympics' largest grass-roots fundraiser and public awareness vehicle; more than 85,000 law enforcement officers from around the world volunteer for the movement.
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