Rio de Janeiro, Aug 6: The 31st Olympics, the first in South America and only the third to be held in the southern hemisphere, formally opened on Friday (August 5) with a colourful opening ceremony depicting Brazil's vibrantly diverse culture and dedicated to its history and the Earth's environment, at the Macarana stadium here.
The huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, that dominates the skyline of the Brazilian capital and where the Olympic torch was lit at dawn, was specially lit up ahead of the opening ceremony starting at 8 p.m. local time (4.30 a.m. IST).
However, legendary footballer Pele, who was widely expected to light the Olympic cauldron, pulled out a few hours before due to ill-health.
The ceremony, which has famed Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles, known for crime drama "City of God", Andrucha Washington and Daniela Thomas as creative directors, started with thousands of performers entering the arena with sheets of metallic paper, quickly transformed into a sort of "pillow" and struck hard to create a beat that resounded through the stadium.
The Brazilian national anthem "Hino Nacional Brasileiro" was then rendered by the gentled-voiced sambista Paulinho da Viola, accompanied by a string orchestra.
A panoramic depiction of Brazil's history, including its slave trade past, followed before a unique homage to Alberto Santos-Dumont, who is in Brazil, credited with inventing the first aeroplane and taking the first flight, instead of the Wright Brothers, as a light plane flew inside the stadium before taking off into the night sky across a celebrating city.
But the high point was in rendition of the late Tom Jobim's legendary "The Girl from Ipanema", performed by his grandson Daniel as supermodel and national icon Gisele Bundchen, clad in a long sleeved, gold-sequin spangled dress, sashayed across on her most ambitious catwalk across the stadium. And her trail, formed into the contours of iconic works by Brazil's greatest architect, Oscar Niemeyer.
Other star performers included the legendary samba singer Elza Soares, and hip-hop proponents Karol Conka and the 12-year-old M.C. Soffia (hip hop), all representing Brazil's black community too.
Also captivating was 21-year-old funk sensation Ludmilla, who rendered "Rap da Felicidade" (Happiness Rap) as the slick box set was rendered into the "favela" (slum), while 13-year-old Cristian do Passinho displayed nimble footwork of "Passinho" - the latest Rio dance craze.
The hour-long cultural fiesta, capped by a spectacular display of fireworks, led to the Parade of the Nations, or the march past of the participating contingents, comprising 207 including Kosovo and South Sudan who are making their debut. Also participating for the first time is the 10-member Refugee Olympic Team comprising refugees from Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Congo.
Each team, dressed mostly in traditional costumes, accompanied by young children bearing a sapling and trailed by a team of traditional musicians, entered the arena to applause, though the loudest cheers were reserved for teams from the neighbouring countries, as well as those making their debut and Palestine.
For the first time, the athletes were handed tree seeds, which are intended to be sown in the Athletes' Forest in the area of Deodoro, planned as Rio 2016's enduring legacy.
The Indian contingent was led by Olympian medal-winning shooter Abhinav Bindra.
Saying Rio is ready to make history, President of 2016 games, Carlos Nuzman, promised to deliver a great experience turning dreams into reality.
For the first time refugees were recognised as a separate team with International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach, saying "we do not just tolerate diversity, but welcome it as an enrichment to our unity", before Acting President of Brazil, Michel Temer, declared the 31st Olympic Games open here to a capacity crowd at the famed Maracana Stadium.
An Olympic Laurel, a special recognition, was given to Kipchoge Keino, chairman of the Kenyan Olympic committee for his contribution to education, development and the games.
The theme of the Olympic Games ceremony called on Earthlings to replant and save the planet.
"It's not enough to stop harming the planet, it is time to begin healing it," said the literature explaining the game, saying promoting world peace is the basis of the Olympic spirit.
Samba drums and dancing ushered in the games, with Brazil in a mood to throw a great party in the next 17 days, overlooking months of negative news and troubles which at times threatened to derail the biggest games show on the Earth.
Preparations woes and political upheaval has underlined the run up to the games, but on its opening day Brazilians were celebrating, aiming to make the Olympics a success. Fireworks at the end lighted up the spirits of those gathered to witness the show.
Temer was not introduced in the beginning though there was a mention that he would be. Traditionally, the head of state or government is introduced in such a ceremony.
President Dilma Rousseff was suspended following moves to impeach her by the legislators over a massive accounting scandal.
Bach alluded to the troubles by saying "you have managed this at a very difficult time in Brazilian history".
The three and a half hour ceremony, which opened at 8.00 p.m. Brazilian time (4.30 a.m. IST), reproduced patterns created by Brazilian artist Athos Bulcao through volunteers who turned their metallic paper into exotic shapes depicting what the organisers said where the indigenous geometry, African patterns and traditional Portuguese tile design.
Soon the floor of the large stadium, which housed over 60,000 people, was covered with shapes from sea and forests, reminding the packed audience of the need to conserve.
It harked back to a time when Brazil was entirely covered by forests. Sea ice melt and impact of climate change came back in the presentation with hope being depicted in the greening of the cities and rural areas by plantation of seeds by volunteers.
Right till the end, when the green Olympic rings were revealed by mirror-hugging volunteers, the green theme carried on.
The greenery soon enough gave way to geometric patterns to show that nature had been taken over by the geometry of agriculture, mining, roads and city plans -- not something unique to Brazil but a pattern seen the world over.
The patterns and the people also pointed to the birth of nation forged from the encounter of natives, Europeans and African which also absorbed many waves of migration, including those from the Middle East and Asia.
Then came Brazilian super model Gisele Bundchen, to a roaring ovation, walking her last catwalk as she crossed the length of the stadium in a white trailing dress, closing her career as the world's best known model, who had launched dozens of brands and whose face graced the covers of the top fashion magazines around the world.
Popular songs and music often accompanied the performance on the ground. The rhythm and songs from the most underprivileged sections of the country, made famous by the culture coming out of its favelas or urban slums also found a pride of place as did its raps and the dance which had taken the country by storm.
The organisers said they had jettisoned the high-tech approach and dependence on electronic and mechanatronic effects, changing the paradigm of Olympic ceremonies with an "analogue inventiveness" making the most of the "low tech spirit, the richness of Brazilian popular culture and the energy and passion of thousands of volunteers".
Commentators had earlier said the show would be a low tech affair as the budget for the ceremony had been slashed. The creative director of the ceremony had tried to put a gloss over the lower-than-planned budget for the event.
"You can do much more with heart, without spending," Fernando Meirelles told the media earlier, mentioning that the budget was "far less than" what had been spent at London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008.
The presentation was followed by the tribute to the athletes who have come from 207 nations to participate in the most challenging feat of human endurance and skill.
They came for the march past in their national dresses or in bright colours, led by a tricycle riding name-board bearers carrying plants to underline the theme of bio-diversity and saving the planet.
A boy or a girl also accompanied the flag bearers of each nation with a small, green plant in hand.
The loudest and longest public ovation, a standing tribute, was reserved for the Brazilian contingent, of course. It came last in the march past being the host nation, as is the tradition.
Portugal got the next largest roar. The US, with the largest number of participants, Great Britain, France, Mexico and Italy got extended ovations.
Russia, with a truncated contingent because of the doping scandal, also got a fairly extended welcome. The Refugee Olympic team too got major applause.
Most of the athletes from India came for the ceremony except for a handful who had a game the next day, dressed in Blue with a touch of yellow.
Abhinav Bindra, the Olympic champion shooter, was the flag bearer for India. Over twenty officials also joined the contingent.
Earlier, before the formal beginning of the ceremony, in a possible tribute to Indian ethos, presenters paid homage to "love and compassion" by reciting Om repeatedly as the stands were filling up.
The capacity crowd which had been ushered in a largely chaotic method spent the remaining time in Mexican waves and slogans while lighting up their mobile phones as lights dimmed across the stadium on cue from the interim presenters on the ground.