Rio de Janeiro (BBN)– The 2016 Olympic Games were formally opened in a colourful and pulsating ceremony at Rio’s Maracana stadium.
Broadcast to an estimated audience of three billion, the ceremony celebrated Brazil’s history and natural beauty, before former marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic cauldron, reports BBC.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray led the British team into the arena.
The build-up to Rio 2016 has been played out against a deep recession and political protests in Brazil.
The Games, the first to be held in South America, have also been disrupted by concerns over the Russian doping scandal, the Zika virus and problems with the city’s security, infrastructure and venues.
But organisers will hope the focus can now shift to the action in 28 sports, with 207 teams, after the Games of the 31st Olympiad were officially opened.
The cauldron was lit by De Lima, who won bronze for Brazil in the marathon at the 2004 Games after he was grappled by a spectator while leading the race.
Football legend Pele had ruled himself out of performing the role saying he was not in the right “physical condition”.
With Brazil’s economy struggling, the budget for the opening ceremony was thought to be considerably less than the £30m spent on London 2012’s extravagant display.
And while Rio’s event did not match the enormous ambition of the ceremony directed by Danny Boyle four years ago, the Maracana crowd were treated to a show that mixed light displays, fireworks, dancing and music.
After a simple but emotional rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, sung and played on acoustic guitar by singer-songwriter Paulinho da Viola, video projections beamed on to the floor of the stadium explored the history of the nation.
Starting with images of micro-organisms dividing and giant sculptures of microbes – representing the beginning of life – the ceremony showed the contributions made by the nation’s indigenous peoples, by Portuguese explorers, by African slaves and by Japanese immigrants to Brazil’s history and culture.
Performers strode across projections of giant buildings, symbolising the cities of Brazil, and a recreation of a 14-bis biplane – the invention of Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, which first flew in 1906 – drew one of the biggest cheers of the evening as it flew out of the arena.
The entrance of 207 teams
Two-time Wimbledon champion and London 2012 gold medallist Murray had said holding the British flag and leading his country into the Maracana would be the proudest moment of his career.
The 29-year-old was followed by around 70 of Team GB’s 366 athletes, with many remaining in the training base in Belo.
The Russian team, cut down to 271 athletes from an initial 389 following accusations of widespread doping by an independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Association, were at least spared any obvious negative reaction from the crowd.
One of the warmest welcomes of the evening was given to a team consisting of refugee athletes – the penultimate team to enter the stadium.
International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said the refugee athletes were sending “a message of hope to the millions of refugees around the globe”.
But the local crowd of 60,000 exploded with noise as the Brazil team, with London 2012 modern pentathlon bronze medallist Yane Marques flying the nation’s flag, emerged into the stadium to chants of “Brasil, Brasil, Brasil”.
What happened elsewhere in Rio?
Thousands of protestors lined the boulevard alongside Copacabana beach, calling for the removal of interim president Michel Temer.
There were also smaller demonstrations nearer the Maracana, with about 200 protestors marching from the Saens Pena square in Tijuca to the stadium.
Heavy security was in force around the Olympic Park during the ceremony, with army troops positioned every 25 metres.
An unnamed Greek athlete was expelled from the Games after failing a drugs test.
Police cordoned off a large area around the Beach Volleyball Arena in Copacabana and deployed robotic bomb detection devices during the ceremony – what appeared to be a black bag and a red rucksack were investigated.
What they said
IOC president Bach shone a positive light on the Games, despite the problems around the organisation in the build-up to Rio 2016.
“These first Olympic Games from South America go from Brazil to the entire world,” he said.
“All Brazilians can be very proud tonight. With the Olympic Games as a catalyst, you have achieved in only seven years what generations before you could only dream of.
“You have transformed Rio de Janiero into a modern metropolis and made it even more beautiful. You managed this at a very difficult time in Brazilian history. We have always believed in you.”
The president of Rio 2016, Carlos Nuzman, said he was “the proudest man alive”.
He added: “I am proud of my city, proud of my country. Let’s celebrate together as we work together to build the Games.”