Rio de Janeiro: Brazil showcased its rich history and cultural heritage, combined with Rio's famous 'Samba' dance, at the opening ceremony of the 31st Olympic Games on Friday. A subtle yet powerful message, of global warming plaguing the world, was put across in a simple but passionate display.
The organisers put their passion for football aside and made climate change and depletion of natural resources asthe central theme of the ceremony, in a thought-provoking nearly four-hour long display to signal the opening of the 17-day extravaganza which will see more than 11,000 athletes from 209 countries take part, including India, and a refugee Olympic team.
Brazil's Acting President Michel Temer declared the Games open, the first Games to be held in South America, in the presence of International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach and United Nations head, Ban-Ki Moon.
"I declare the Rio Olympics open, and celebrate the 31st Olympic Games of the modern era," Temer said to formally signal the commencement of competitions, just as the Rio night sky was lit with fireworks emanating from the Maracana Stadium.
After the formal declaration of the Games, Brazilian 2004 Athens Olympics marathon bronze winner Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic cauldron after former tennis world number one and three-time French Open winner Gustavo Kuerten brought the torch into the arena, to the thunderous applause of the spectators.
Having witnessed many memorable clashes on its pitch, the 78,000-capacity Maracana Stadium bore testimony to Brazil's effort to make the world a better place. It, in a way, put aside the trouble-torn build up to the Games that the host city faced from the Zika virus threat, the slumping economy and the cost over-runs.
"It is not enough to stop harming the planet, it's time to begin healing it. This will be our Olympic message: Earthlings, let's replant, let's save the planet," said the creators of the opening ceremony.
Following the tradition, Greece, the birthplace of ancient Olympics, led the athletes' parade with the hosts country Brazil coming last. The countries marched in alphabetical order, based on the spelling of their names in Portuguese.
The Indian contingent, led by its flag bearer and the only individual Olympic gold medallist, Abhinav Bindra, who is in his swansong Olympics, entered the stadium as the 95th country. Around 70 Indian athletes (out of 118) and 24 officials took part in the march past, with the male athletes wearing navy blue colour blazer and trousers, and their female counterparts donning blue blazers and traditional Sarees.
Making his record seventh Olympic appearance, tennis ace Leander Paes was seen waving at the crowd, while the spotlight among the female members fell on the likes of shuttlers Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponappa and gymnast Dipa Karmakar.
Among the officials who were part of the march past were chef de mission Rakesh Gupta and his deputy Anandeswar Pandey. The men's hockey players skipped the parade as they had to rest before their match against Ireland on Saturday. The archery, table tennis and weightlifting teams also skipped the opening ceremony.
There were loud cheers for the Spanish and British teams with the popular tennis duo of Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, both multiple-time Grand Slam champions, leading their respective countries on to the pitch holding aloft their national flags. A 60-member Jamaica contingent walked onto the pitch without its biggest star and champion sprinter Usain Bolt, as the athletes were seen waving flags and blowing kisses.
Led by the most-decorated Olympian ever, swimmer Michael Phelps, a 500-member strong Team USA arrived donned in red, white and blue from head to toe. Kenyan running legend and two-time Olympic champion Kipchoge Keino was conferred the first ever 'Olympic Laurel', a distinction created by the IOC to honour an outstanding individual for achievement in education, culture and peace through sport. The 76-year-old Keino won a gold each in the 1968 Mexico Olympics (1500m) and 1972 Munich Games (3000m steeplechase).
The ceremony was divided into 22 segments with the first 11 focussing on Brazil and its evolution. The first 45 minutes were about the history of Brazil and its evolution billions of years ago, before the theme moved along to planet earth.
The hugely popular song, 'The girl from Ipanema', was rendered by Daniel Jobim as Brazil's supermodel Gisele Bundchen sashayed her way on the stage. Carioca funk, rap, Maracatu (or typical folk dance of Pernambuco with origins in Portuguese, Indigenous and African cultures), Bate-Bolas or carnival dance, fire sword battle of Cruz Das Almas ensured that the world was treated to something special. 1500 performers then filled the stage dancing a typical 'Baile Charme' and were joined by 60000 others dancing to the choreography.
After the athletes' march past, the formal ceremony began with Bach and Rio Organising Committee chief Carlos Arthur Nuzman giving their speeches.
"Olympics will prosper peace. We're living in a world of crisis, mistrust and uncertainty. 10,000 best athletes are competing and living in one Olympic village, sharing their meals and one emotion. In this Olympic world, there's one universal law for everybody. We are all equal," said Bach.
"I call upon you the athletes, respect yourself, each other to make the Olympic values unique for the entire world. Selfishness is gaining ground, certain people claim to be superior, here is our Olympic answer," he added.
A former Olympic champion in fencing, Bach had a special mention for the newly inducted Refugee Olympic Team. "With greatest respect, we welcome the refugee Olympic team. You are sending a message of hope to all the millions. Because of violence, hunger or just because you're different. You're making a great contribution to society. In this Olympic world, we do not just tolerate diversity, we welcome you as an enrichment to your uniqueness in diversity," said the German.
After this, the hallowed Olympic flame, after travelling 26,000 kms, was carried into the Maracana by Kuerten, who then passed it to basketball Olympic silver medalist Hortencia Marcari. Finally the Olympic cauldron was lit by Brazilian marathoner Vanderle Cordeiro de Lima as firecrackers went off in the Rio night sky. Football legend Pele was to light the Olympic cauldron but he pulled out of the ceremony, citing health concerns.