Opening Ceremony

Captivating opening act

AN EXPERIENCE TO SAVOUR: "It was an exhilarating moment walking into the packed stadium carrying our Singapore flag high and proud." - DEREK WONG, Singapore flag-bearer, on what the honour meant to him.
AN EXPERIENCE TO SAVOUR: "It was an exhilarating moment walking into the packed stadium carrying our Singapore flag high and proud." - DEREK WONG, Singapore flag-bearer, on what the honour meant to him.
The Singapore contingent during the opening ceremony, a four-hour extravaganza.
The Singapore contingent during the opening ceremony, a four-hour extravaganza. PHOTO: REUTERS
Swimmer Michael Phelps leading the US team into the arena.
Swimmer Michael Phelps leading the US team into the arena.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Former world No. 1 and winner of 14 tennis Grand Slam singles titles Rafael Nadal leading the Spanish team.
Former world No. 1 and winner of 14 tennis Grand Slam singles titles Rafael Nadal leading the Spanish team. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Brazilian supermodel and actress Gisele Bundchen returns to the “catwalk” at the Maracana Stadium.
Brazilian supermodel and actress Gisele Bundchen returns to the “catwalk” at the Maracana Stadium.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Performers created striking geometrical shapes using lighted strings.
Performers created striking geometrical shapes using lighted strings. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Samba dancers celebrate the country’s traditional connection with music and dance.
Samba dancers celebrate the country’s traditional connection with music and dance.PHOTO: REUTERS

Brazil's love of dance and music celebrated in vivid style by first South American host nation

The first Olympic Games in South America carried a distinctly Brazilian flavour as Rio welcomed the world on Friday night with a spectacular opening ceremony.

Under the backdrop of the towering Christ the Redeemer statue, the city's iconic Maracana Stadium, home to countless sporting moments, was again the venue for another chapter in Brazil's history.

The 78,000 spectators, and an estimated three billion television viewers, were treated to a four-hour spectacle that lived up to director Fernando Meirelles' promise of an intimate and colourful party.

While Pele, now 75, was widely expected to light the cauldron, Brazil's legendary footballer declined the honour on health reasons.

Instead, it was the much lesser-known marathoner Vanderlei de Lima, who trotted up the steps as the last person to conclude the epic torch relay that began 95 days ago in Greece's Temple of Hera.

De Lima, whose moment in time came when he was leading the marathon at the 2004 Athens Games before he was attacked by a spectator, causing him to finish third.

He was subsequently awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal, named after the International Olympic Committee founder, for his sportsmanship.

Besides showcasing the unique culture of Brazil and its deep connection with dance and music, the theme of environmentalism was also highlighted, no surprise considering large swathes of the Amazon rainforest occupy the country.

Fireworks were shot into the sky several times but it was the clever use of simple objects like string and boxes that created several stunning visual segments.

At one point, the stage went dark and became an enormous catwalk for local girl and supermodel Gisele Bundchen to strut her stuff, accompanied by the famous bossa nova tune Girl From Ipanema.

One of the favourite segments of any opening ceremony is the Parade of Nations and this was no different as Greece, the birthplace of the Summer Games, led out all 206 countries as well as, for the first time, a refugee team.

National badminton player Derek Wong was Singapore's flag-bearer and he was accompanied by 15 other Team Singapore athletes plus 13 officials for the ceremony. The Republic has sent a contingent of 25 athletes.

Wong said: "It was an exhilarating moment walking into the packed stadium carrying our Singapore flag high and proud."

Wong and his team-mates were cheered on by Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, who is also the Singapore National Olympic Council president.

Mr Tan said: "This is probably one of the squads where we have seemingly one of the better medalling prospects. But I'm always just looking at our athletes performing their best, personal best if possible, and that's really what we can hope for."

All the South American contingents were greeted with loud applause and the refugee team was given a standing ovation. But the biggest cheer was reserved for the hosts, who marched out last, as per tradition, and were led by modern pentathlete Yane Marques.

It was then left to Brazil's acting President Michel Temer, who shared the VIP box with heads of state like France President Francois Hollande and Argentina's Mauricio Macri, to declare the Games of the XXXI Olympiad officially open before 2004 Olympic marathon bronze medallist Vanderlei Lima lit the Olympic cauldron.

Football legend Pele had been tipped by many to have received this honour but the 75-year-old was unable to attend the ceremony due to ill health.

Controversies, from the banning of Russian athletes for doping to the myriad domestic issues that had plagued Brazil, had dominated much of the build-up to the Rio Games but these were all put aside temporarily as Brazil samba-ed the night away.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Captivating opening act'. Print Edition | Subscribe