Color, vibrancy and simplicity: Rio kicks off Olympics in style | The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang | DW | 06.08.2016
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Color, vibrancy and simplicity: Rio kicks off Olympics in style

The first ever Olympic Games in South America are underway after an opening ceremony that featured a colorful look at Brazil's past, a glamorous celebration of its present and a strong environmental message.

The opening ceremony can set the tone for Olympic Games.

Beijing's technological extravaganza in 2008 and London's wild and wonderful journey through its history in 2012 announced that the Olympics had arrived, both in emphatic fashion.

On Friday, it was Rio de Janeiro's turn, and an opportunity for Brazil to draw a line under the protests, political instability and, of course, the Russian doping scandal, all of which have overshadowed the buildup to the Summer Games.

From August 5 to August 21, 10,500 athletes from 207 teams will compete, including representatives from Kosovo and South Sudan, countries that are participating in the Olympics for the first time.

At 554 participants, the United States has the largest Olympic team. Germany will be represented by 423 athletes.

Olympia Rio 2016 Eröffnungsfeier

Environmentalism was a key theme at the opening ceremony

History, climate change and Carnival

Proceedings began with pyrotechnics from the roof of the iconic Maracana Stadium, the venue for the World Cup final two years ago, before a delicate and understated rendition of the Brazilian national anthem by Paulinho da Viola. All the while, the Brazilian flag was being elevated with the nation's athletes looking on. It was simple, classy and effective.

The artistic segment of the ceremony, directed by Fernando Meirelles, who is best known for his 2002 film "City of God," was a brief run through of the history of Brazil. It was a largely nostalgic look at Brazilian history and what life looked like in the country before the Europeans settled - again pulled off elegantly and without the complicated and ambitious routines we've seen in previous opening ceremonies.

The introduction of the dance music Brazil is famous for set a party tone for the next segment, which focused on the arrival of the European, African and Middle Eastern settlers. Portugal was, of course, the first to arrive, and Meirelles depicted 400 years of slavery in Brazil by showing Africans in shackles. There was also a nod to African art and culture, and the key role it plays in Brazilian society to this very day.

Olympia Rio 2016 Eröffnungsfeier Team Deutschland

Germany, led by flag bearer and five-time Olympian Timo Boll, will be represented by 423 athletes

Later, MC Sofia, a 12-year-old rapper from Sao Paulo, rapped about Brazil's history of slavery and racial division. And she did so to a backdrop of traditional types of Brazilian dance, including capoeira.

A video of Alberto Santos-Dumont, a pioneer of powered flight, cruising over the Rio night sky was a nice touch as the Maracana cleared the way for a sprinkling of stardust.

That stardust came in the form of supermodel Gisele Bündchen, who strutted through the stadium to huge cheers and to a rendition of "The Girl From Ipanema" by Daniel Jobim, the grandson of the song's composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

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And just when you were thinking that one essential ingredient in Brazilian culture, Carnival, was conspicuous by its absence, around 1,500 dancers rushed onto the field. It was officially party time. Audience members were invited to join in and the fun, carefree nature of the entire ceremony was underlined. Nevertheless, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach was not tempted to show off his samba skills.

A key political message in the show was climate change, with a video depicting rising temperatures, melting ice caps and Rio de Janeiro becoming submerged as sea levels rise beyond control. The message was that the impact of climate change on the Amazon rainforest is one of the greatest unfolding natural disasters of our time, and Brazil made its point with a somber end to what had been a lively and glamorous segment.

A further simple but effective moment was a recital of "A Flor e a Nausea," read by British actress Judi Dench, a poem which announces hope for the future. An abrupt change of pace, given the doom and gloom pronounced moments earlier in the climate change segment.

The five Olympic rings were revealed after the procession of athletes, and rather than the traditional colorful rings we are used to seeing, Rio used trees to present them, another nod to the environmental message.

Protests and political turmoil

Once the athletes had entered the stadium, Brazil's interim President Michel Temer declared open the games to jeers by some in the crowd of 60,000 spectators, a reflection of ongoing political repercussions from the impeachment proceedings against suspended President Dilma Rousseff.

Hours before the start of the opening show, thousands of Brazilian protesters angry at political upheaval, corruption and the cost of the Olympics had blocked traffic on the streets of Rio. Rousseff supporters were among the protesters.

The demonstrators also took aim at the Summer Games, saying a huge amount of money spent on staging the Olympics would have been better spent on development projects.

Olympia Rio 2016 Eröffnungsfeier Michel Temer Rio Momente 05 08

Temer's appearance to open the games was met with jeers

Following Temer, IOC President Bach tried to smooth things over with his speech. "We are living in a world of crises, mistrust and uncertainty," he said. "Here is our Olympic answer: The 10,000 best athletes in the world, competing with each other, at the same time living peacefully together in one Olympic Village, sharing their meals and their emotions."

The big talking point leading up to the opening ceremony was who was going to light the Olympic flame. Legendary footballer Pele had been widely expected to receive the honor, but the 75-year-old's recent poor health led to strong rumors that former world number one tennis player Gustavo Kuerten would have the privilege.

But Kuerten was not the man to light the Olympic cauldron in the end. He carried the torch into the stadium, but that honor was reserved for marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, a bronze medalist in Athens in 2004.

With that the show was over and the Olympics had begun. This will be remembered as an opening ceremony that delivered plenty, despite the fact that it had half the budget London splashed out four years ago. It was simple but effective, with a helping of politics.

Welcome to Rio.

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