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The Mayors of Cleveland and Akron were on hand to welcome thousands of athletes and visitors from more than 50 countries and 48 states when the 2014 Gay Games kicked off on Saturday night.

Greg Kabel

CBS46.com reports that on hand were Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Cleveland Foundation CEO Ron Richard, Federation of Gay Games Co-Chairs Kurt Dahl and Joanie Evans and Gay Games 9 Executive Director Tom Nobbe.

"In 2009, I told the Gay Games Selection Committee that we will do all we can to be the best Games you ever had. We are well on our way," said Jackson.

"Months ago, a minister said I've started a process for us [ministers] to talking about tolerance and acceptance," added Plusquellic. "The Gay Games coming to our area has started a conversation by religious leaders to welcome all."

Even President Barack Obama made a surprise video appearance after the National Anthem to kick off the Gay Games and welcome friends and family, saying, "Good luck to the athletes... and go Team USA."

"The Gay Games is thrilled to have President Obama take his time to show his commitment to the Games' mission of inclusion, participation and personal best," said Hollie Ksiezyk, co-chair.

Fellow co-chair Steve Sokany agreed.
"It was a special moment that no one in the arena will forget and a great way to kick off the exciting Games week," he said.

Opening Ceremony continued with special appearances from Greg Louganis, Lance Bass, the Pointer Sisters, Broadway's Andrea McArdle and Alex Newell.

NewsNet5Cleveland reports that the Quicken Loans Arena was hopping as athletes anticipated competing in 35 different events in the two cities, from wrestling to rodeo to running.

Gay Games 9 will run through the week, with the closing ceremony next Saturday. Participants say that the city of Cleveland is rolling out the red carpet for them.

"Everyone's cheering us," said Andrew Farrell, from the Australia wrestling team. "You go into shops and everyone's friendly and welcoming. It's great!"

From our media partner EDGE