Rio Olympics 2016 opening ceremony kicks off with a vibrant bang

The Rio Olympics officially started with a long and loud celebration of Brazilian culture that also featured some unfortunate reminders of the troubled backdrop to these Games.
The dominant images from the four-hour opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium will be supermodel Giselle Bundchen’s catwalk across the pitch to ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, the joyous arrival of Brazil’s team and former marathon star Vanderlei de Lima lighting an Olympic cauldron that morphed into a golden disco ball.
But the boos that greeted acting Brazilian president Michel Temer’s short address to open the Games, the smattering of jeers the Russian team received and the catcalls that followed a reference to government funding tell a different story.
Rio 2016 has had a difficult upbringing with worries about the country’s ability to afford it, Rio’s preparations and sport’s credibility in the face of a divisive doping crisis, but South America’s first ever Olympics is now ready to entertain the world and perhaps revive a nation.
Temer, who took office in May when impeachment procedures were started against president Dilma Rousseff, tried to postpone his poor reception by opting out of the initial welcome alongside International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
This meant the first boos of the evening went to the team from Brazil’s traditional rival Argentina, although they were of the pantomime variety and the selfie-snapping Argentinians did not seem fazed.

But by that point the Maracana was in full-on party mode as a succession of dancers, musicians and volunteers raced through routines intended to showcase Brazil’s diversity and history, even finding time for a lecture on environmental issues.
Bundchen’s long sashay was an early highlight, as was a clever section that featured a biplane appearing to fly out of the stadium and circle the city’s signature ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue.
The ceremony’s creative director Fernando Meirelles had less money to spend than his predecessors, including the mastermind of London 2012’s memorable show Danny Boyle, but he promised “the coolest party” and gave it a good go.
The Parade of Nations is always the Games’ first big test of stamina, and with new countries such as Kosovo and South Sudan taking their place in the pageant for the first time, as well as a team of refugee athletes, Rio’s race through the atlas was even more gruelling than usual.

But there were big cheers for nations with large immigrant communities in Brazil, such as Italy and Japan, and roars for the more recognisable flag bearers such as Rafa Nadal and Michael Phelps.
Team GB’s Andy Murray would appear to have some work to do in South America to match that pair’s appeal but the Scot waved the Union Flag with gusto and the British squad was given a warm reception.
One of the most eagerly-awaited teams, certainly among the press corps, was Russia’s, if only to see if a team from a nation that had tried to fix the last Olympics – in Sochi, two years ago – really would be allowed to compete again, and hear if they would be booed.
As it happened, their arrival, sandwiched between Rwanda and the Solomon Islands, was relatively low key, with some jeers that were quickly drowned out by the pockets of Russian support in the crowd.

That was never going to be an issue for Brazil’s team, which brought the parade to its traditional conclusion five minutes short of two hours, and only five minutes behind schedule.
Chants of “Brasil, Brasil, Brasil” reverberated around the stadium just before they emerged from the tunnel and then the crowd erupted as the athletes danced and skipped across stage.
This brought us to the main speeches by the chairman of the Rio 2016 organising committee Carlos Nuzman and IOC boss Bach.
These are difficult times for a country that was enjoying rapid economic growth when Rio won the right to host the Games but is now in recession and with a government in tatters.
Bach, however, said the Games were a “catalyst for transforming Rio into a modern metropolis that is even more beautiful than before”, while Nuzman said he was the “proudest man alive” that his city had got this far.

Nuzman’s mention of government support for Rio 2016’s budget was briefly jeered but he was on safer ground when he told the crowd “the whole world is here”.
The biggest cheers for Bach’s speech came when he welcomed the team of refugee athletes, saying the Olympics were the answer to the world’s “growing selfishness”.
There then followed the first ever awarding of an “Olympic laurel” to Kenyan running great Kip Keino, before the traditional unfurling of the Olympic Flag, rendition of the Olympic Anthem and recitation of Olympic oaths.
That set the stage for night’s final act: lighting the cauldron, which was done by de Lima, a late replacement for the unwell Pele.
And with that the athletes started to file out and head for their beds, while the bulk of the crowd recorded the fireworks on their smartphone cameras.
The 31st Summer Olympics start for real later on Saturday, not a moment too soon for a city and a country in need of a lift, and an Olympic family desperate to get back to what really matters – the sport.

Categories:   My Life, Uncategorized