What it lacked in flash, Rio made up for with feeling. With a limited budget, the consequence of a biting recession that roiled preparations for South America’s first Olympics, Brazil laced its high-energy opening party for the games of the 31st Olympiad with a sobering message of the dangers of global warming.
Graphic projections of world cities being swamped by rising seas set Rio de Janeiro’s otherwise fun and festive gala apart from the more self-congratulatory and lavish celebrations that Beijing and London wowed with in 2008 and 2012.
“The heat is melting the icecap,” a voice intoned in the Maracanã Stadium. “It’s disappearing very quickly.”
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. After all, nowhere parties quite like Rio.
Supermodel Gisele Bundchen shimmered to the tune of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Fireworks formed the word “Rio” in the skies. The colossal Christ the Redeemer statue was bathed in Brazilian yellow and green. Dancers, all hips and wobble, grooved to thumping funk and sultry samba.
After one of the roughest-ever rides from vote to games by an Olympic host, the city of beaches, carnival, grinding poverty and sun-kissed wealth celebrated Brazil’s can-do spirit, biodiversity and melting pot history.
The crowd roared when Bundchen sashayed from one side of the 78,000-seat arena to the other, as Tom Jobim’s grandson, Daniel, played his grandfather’s famous song about the Ipanema girl “tall and tan and young and lovely.”
In a video preceding the show, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the games “celebrate the best of humanity” and appealed for an Olympic truce, calling on “all warring parties to lay down their weapons” during the two weeks of sporting achievement. There were times after the IOC selected Rio ahead of Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid in 2009 when it seemed that the city of 6.5 million people might not get its act together for the world’s greatest sporting event.
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