The Summer Olympic Games kicked off Friday night in an opening ceremony headlined by supermodel Gisele Bundchen at the fabled Maracana stadium.
Brazil unfurled the event with a gutted budget, a reflection of Brazil’s tough economic times which nonetheless triggered joy and amusement among the crowds with lights, fireworks, circus-like acrobats all to the pounding beat of samba, bossa nova and funk.
Reflecting their own style, the Brazilians replaced the high-tech taste that has come to define the opening ceremonies of Olympic Games from Beijing to London to Sochi, with a more organic, authentic and nature-like one. Their show didn’t rely on expensive mechanical audacities; they resorted to what the program described as “analogue inventiveness” and further used the ceremony as a chance to call on the 3 billion people watching the opening of the world’s premiere sporting event to take care of the planet, plant seeds and protect the verdant land that Europeans found here five centuries ago.
The first South American country to host the Olympics used the opening of the Games to tell a version of the country’s history – from slavery to mega-cities.
Despite the resentful undercurrent, and protests against the Games just hours earlier, spirits were high among the athletes, performers, fans and officials at the 78,000-capacity Maracana, and following the hour-long show, athletes paraded into the stadium – led first, per tradition, by Greece, which hosted the initial Games.
The order then proceeded alphabetically; athletes from Cameroon wore traditional flowing robes, those from communist-led Cuba had outfits designed by a French luxury footwear designer. The team from the United States – Estados Unidos, in Portugese – paraded in earlier than it usually does, this time wearing blue blazers and being led by legendary swimmer Michael Phelps.
Many people had expected the Olympic flame to be lit by 75-year-old soccer legend Pelé, but he said that he would not participate in the ceremony because of his health. Instead, that honor went to Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, a Brazilian former marathoner who won a bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
“The Olympic dream is now a wonderful reality. The best place in the world is here and now,” said organising committee chief Carlos Nuzman, to rapturous applause.