31st Rio Olympics starts with colourful, melodic ceremony; Abhinav Bindra leads India in parade
Rio de Janeiro: Depicting Brazil's vibrantly diverse culture at the Macarana stadium, thousands of people joined an open air party here to mark the opening of 31st Olympics, the first to be held in South America and only the third to take place in the southern hemisphere.
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.
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.
(With inputs from IANS)