RIO DE JANEIRO — With fireworks forming the word “Rio” in the sky, performers decked in silver and sweet, sultry music, Rio de Janiero is welcoming the world to the first Olympic Games in South America with a message: Let’s take better care of our planet.
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 lifted the curtain on the games of the 31st Olympiad with a three-hour gala that celebrated Brazil’s can-do spirit, biodiversity and its indigenous people. It will trace its history from forested land, through colonization by Portugal, and into a nation of astounding diversity and contrasts.
Before the show, in a video broadcast inside the 78,000-seat Maracana Stadium, U.N. 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.
Performers decked in silvery suits folded and unfolded glittering silver sheets that transformed into giant cushions they then beat like drums. Fireworks lit up the skies and the peace symbol, tweaked into the shape of a tree, was projected on the floor of the stadium where Germany won the World Cup in 2014.
As well as a showcase for Brazil’s history, culture, diversity and hopes, the gala also represents a triumph, because there were times after the International Olympic Committee 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 mega-event.