From supermodel Gisele Bundchen’s tribute to the “Girl from Ipanema” to the promise of an athletes’ forest to be planted after the Games, Brazil’s big night saluted the country’s past and pointed towards a greener future.
A day of protests against the hosting of the Games gave way to a night of pageantry at the Maracana Stadium, albeit on a budget one-tenth the size of the equivalent in London four years ago.
“These first-ever Olympic Games in South America will go from Brazil to the entire world,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told the crowd.
“With the Olympic Games as a catalyst, you have achieved in just seven years what generations before you could only dream of. You have transformed the city of Rio de Janeiro into a modern metropolis and made it even more beautiful.
“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.”
During his speech, Bach also paid tribute to the refugee team which will compete in Rio under the Olympic flag.
“We are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground, where certain people claim to be superior to others,” he said of the Olympians representing displaced people across the world. “Here is our Olympic answer.”
President of the organizing committee Carlos Nuzman delivered an impassioned tribute to Rio and urged Brazilians to embrace the Games.
“Our dream is for the Olympic city to be transformed by the Games,” he said. “This marvelous city is the perfect city. Let’s live our dream together and stay together when circumstances challenge us.
“In the name of all Brazilians, I welcome the world. Rio is ready to make history.”
Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer spoke briefly to the crowd to officially open the Olympics, but he was greeted by boos from a section of the crowd, reflecting the dissatisfaction of the Brazilian people with the government.
The lighting of the Olympic cauldron followed, with the honor going to Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, a former runner who led the marathon at the 2004 Games until he was attacked by a spectator. He eventually finished third.
Former tennis star Gustavo Kuerten brought the flame into the stadium and passed it on to ex-basketballer Hortencia Marcari, then De Lima took center stage.