2016 Rio Olympics Open With Visually Stunning Ceremony
Costumed dancers, raucous crowds and spectacular fireworks welcomed the best athletes in the world to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil on Friday evening.
The artistic spectacle of the opening ceremonies shifted the focus away from the poverty, pestilence and political unrest surrounding the first Olympic Games in South America and onto the rich culture and long history of its host nation.
Hamstrung by a budget significantly less than its predecessors in London (2012) and Beijing (2008), the Rio Olympics entertained the capacity Maracana Stadium crowd and a TV audience of millions by featuring acrobatic climbers contorting their way around illuminated scaffolding, sensuous samba dancers and an hours-long parade of athletes from around the world.
Brazil has been under great scrutiny prior to these games for several reasons: security concerns, the mosquito-born Zika virus, polluted waters, a climate of political upheaval and the nation’s worst recession in decades.
The opening ceremonies of the 31st Olympiad instead concentrated on the history of Brazil and celebrated some of its most famous citizens, including supermodel Gisele Bundchen, who dazzled the crowd by walking the length of the 78,000-seat stadium to the tune of Tom Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema," as performed by his grandson, Daniel.
Video and audio messages broadcast during the ceremony underlined the international concerns of global warming and noted the conservationist efforts that have taken root in this still-emerging, diverse South American nation.
Each of the 207 teams later marched into the venue, led by Greece and highlighted by the Refugee Olympic Team of 10 athletes who were displaced from Syria, Sudan, Congo and Ethiopia.
Olympic medal record-holder Michael Phelps led the United States, which has a Games-high 549 athletes competing in 2016, into the stadium. The host Brazilians completed the parade and helped usher in the official start of the Olympics.
Missing from the opening night gala was ex-Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who helped Rio win the bid for the Games. He was awaiting trial on obstruction charges related to a national oil company.
Da Silva successor Dilma Rousseff, who is suspended from serving pending an impeachment trial, gave way to Interim President Michel Temer. He was heckled by the crowd as he opened the Games. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also offered remarks.
After the Olympic torch made its way into the stadium, Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, whose quest for gold was felled by a course intruder at the 2004 Games, had the honor of lighting the cauldron. It elevated into an oscillating, eye-catching visual tapestry high atop the Maracana.
The first full day of 2016 Summer Olympic competition is set for Saturday.