Reporting from Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro – Fulfilling a promise made seven years ago, Rio entertained the world with an Olympic Opening Ceremony party like no other at the city’s Maracanã Stadium. Doing away with cutting-edge electronics and digital special effects, producers of the show instead leveraged “analogue inventiveness” and a low tech approach to proudly display Brazilian popular culture.
And what a show it was, the first to be staged in South America. It was filled with emotion, with love – and with science.
Rio sent a strong message in the midst of the nation’s economic and political meltdown – it’s time to promote world peace and preserve our fragile environment.
While Brazil’s deep recession may have sparked the need for an Opening Ceremony budget cut, one that reportedly left the cost of the ceremony only a fraction of what was spent in London and Beijing, denying the use of costly special effects helped reinforce the theme that it’s time to reduce our carbon footprint. As well, the focus was instead on pure human talent and entertainment to truly portray Brazil’s vibrant culture.
The theme stayed true, right down to the lighting of an innovative new cauldron that is intentionally small and with low emissions, framed by a larger sculpture representing the sun – our most critical and cleanest source of energy. Mirrors in the sculpture helped amplify the flame’s glow throughout the stadium. In past Games, bigger and more elaborate cauldrons have prevailed, but perhaps Rio will shift things in a new direction.
The cauldron was lit by Olympic marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima who earned bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Brazilian football superstar Pelé had been offered the opportunity but turned it down, reportedly due to illness.
A smaller wind-powered cauldron will be lit after the ceremony, in the city centre, to remain burning for the duration of the Games.
The revelation of the Olympic rings was made by blossoming plants – all in green, Another environmental gesture that an escape from the typical five-colour logo.
The environmental message might be a bit murky though as the spectacular fireworks were not spared.
Also as a creative cost saving measure – instead of providing spectators with costly props for audience participation during the entertainment – organizers instead used the fans and their mobile phones as props. Audience members were asked to light up their mobile phones to create starry backgrounds, and they were also orchestrated to sound out jungle noises making them part of the “Birth of Life” sequence near the beginning of the show.
In another sequence, organizers delivered a more serious and sobering message using NASA satellite imagery to show how global warming might flood major cities in the world – including Rio. Practically a science lesson, the sequence ended showing that we can still act to prevent that end.
Athletes will be planting trees to create an athletes’ forest – a permanent legacy of the Rio 2016 Games.
Rio 2016 Chief Carlos Nuzman spoke passionately, and he was well-received by the Cariocas.
He said “The Olympic dream is now a wonderful reality. The best place in the world is here and now. Rio, Brazil welcomes the world with open arms.”
“I’m the proudest man alive. I’m proud of my city, my country. I’m proud to be an Olympic athlete.
“These are your Games, the first in South America. Opening the Olympic experience to new regions of the world.”
IOC President Thomas Bach spoke in Portuguese as well as English.
He said “with the Olympic Games as a catalyst you have achieved in just seven years what generations before you could only dream of.”
“Our admiration for you is even greater because you managed this at a very difficult time in Brazilian history. We have always believed in you.”
Indeed, Bach and the IOC stood behind Brazil through construction delays, financial difficulties and the call for a cancellation of the Games by “health experts” due to the Zika virus.
The biggest team ovation for the night – besides the welcome for the host Brazilians – was for the Refugee Olympic Team. They arrived into the stadium second last to resounding applause and a standing ovation.
Bach said “we are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground, where certain people claim to be superior to others.”
“Here is our Olympic answer: In the spirit of Olympic solidarity and with the greatest respect, we welcome the Refugee Olympic Team.”
Dear refugee athletes: you are sending a message of hope to all the many millions of refugees around the globe. You had to flee from your homes because of violence, hunger or just because you were different. Now with your great talent and human spirit you are making a great contribution to society.”
A loud welcome was offered to Brazil’s South American neighbours including Chile, Venezuela, Peru and rival Argentina. The applause for Team USA was resounding and loud cheers were offered to team Jamaica – though Champion sprinter Usain Bolt was no where in sight.
The Russian team, reduced by one-third due to the ongoing doping scandal, received a mix of boos and polite applause.
The celebration likely comes as welcome relief to Cariocas who have had to endure the criticism from the international media about pollution, the mosquito-borne Zika virus, crime and economic collapse. It was an opportunity for the city to let off steam and show the world that they really just want to have fun.
And there wasn’t a mosquito in sight at Maracanã.
Nuzman said “we believed and we did it.”
“Rio is ready to make history.”
Acting President Michel Temer officially opened the Games while President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment and has been stripped of her duties. She said in a Tweet Friday night “I’m sad not to attend the party ‘in living color’. But I will be … rooting for Brazil.”
Temer was booed when he declared the Games open – his name was not announced at the ceremony, reportedly because he suggested so as he was expecting a poor reception. Brazil is struggling through political leadership turmoil and spectators were lashing out in frustration.
There were also boos after Nuzman thanked the various governments for their support.
It has been a long road for Rio since it was elected to host these Games almost seven years ago when International Olympic Committee (IOC) members voted to stage the first-ever Games in South America. At the time, Brazil’s surging, stable economy and the novelty of the Games on a new continent was enough to rise Rio above opponents from Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago.
Many events officially begin Saturday morning when rowers take to the water and events at the Barra Olympic Park should make the venue a popular, busy spot.