LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Special Olympics World Games will bring 7,000 athletes from 177 countries to Los Angeles this week to take part in 25 sports at venues across the city.
"It's going to be the largest event Los Angeles has hosted since the 1984 Summer Olympics, and the largest sports-humanitarian event in the world this year," said Patrick McClenahan, president and chief executive of LA2015, the nonprofit bringing the games to L.A.
Eighty-five communities from San Diego to San Luis Obispo will host the international sports competition designed to celebrate athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Organizers say Metro is ready to pick up the traffic load, providing the wheels to Saturday night's opening ceremony at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, to the competition venues, and to the tourist spots in between.
"Those visiting L.A. may be surprised to learn that we now have 87 miles of rail in L.A. County, which did not exist during the Olympic games held in L.A. back in 1984," said Patrick Preusser, executive officer of Metro Rail Operations.
The city's economy will be a winner. According to the L.A. Tourism and Convention Bureau, $128 million will be spent by attendees. In all, L.A. County will reap an estimated $415 million.
Athletes ages 8 to 71 will compete in soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, track, roller skating and other sports over nine days. About a half-million people are expected to come watch, including Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps and diver Greg Louganis, basketball great Yao Ming and even first lady Michelle Obama, who will open the event Saturday.
Global Messenger Debbie Anderson, who was diagnosed as special needs at age 3, says competing in the games has given her confidence.
"Nobody really cared to talk to me. I was off in a distance somewhere by myself, and now through Special Olympics you cannot even get me to stop talking," Anderson said.
Olympic icon Rafer Johnson, who won a gold medal in the decathlon at the 1960 Olympics, will welcome the competitors. He gets choked up when he talks about the joy the Special Olympics World Games brings to those who participate.
"Man, it just seems like the words aren't really enough to pull out what it really means," he said. "Needless to say, they are moments that I literally will never forget. And I'm looking forward to adding these local ceremonies to that group of memories."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.