By Harry Allison
Talk about upsets!
With all the gloom and gloom talk about the Rio Olympics, last night’s opening ceremonies were sure to be a disaster.
With a budget that organizers said was 12 times less than London’s and 20 times less than Beijing’s, the Rio opening ceremony was exquisitely choreographed as a boisterous show, a poignant social statement and a bold challenge to the world.
There was a video showing the impact of global warming and the rising oceans, and every athlete marching into Maracana Stadium was given a seed and a cartridge with soil to plant a native tree of Brazil. The athletes then inserted the seeds into tiny slots in mirrored towers, which later formed the five Olympic rings.
That required some serious thought.
Most opening ceremonies talk a good game. Rio walked the walk of social responsibility. In so doing, it became one of the finest opening ceremonies I’ve seen in the 17 Olympic Games I’ve covered. Organizers downplayed expectations, reporting a budget of US $55.9 million for the two ceremonies for these Games and two for the Paralympics, total.
With stunning and innovative use of lighting, creating intricate patterns and illusions to tell the story of Brazil, it all was quite breathtaking. Who says you need to spend well over $100 million to put on an opening ceremony?
We’re looking at you, Beijing.
It wasn’t all about seeds and giving back to the globe, however. Supermodel Gisele Bundchen, the wife of New England quarterback Tom Brady, showed up and performed her last, long catwalk across the expanse of the stadium floor, accompanied, appropriately enough, by “The Girl from Ipanema.”
You can’t go anywhere in the world these days without someone reminding you of Deflategate.
But it was perfect. We’re in Brazil after all.
Some moments were not nearly as fun or uplifting. When the Russian team appeared in the entrance to the stadium, boos could be heard. When it was announced to the capacity crowd of about 60,000 moments later, there was a smattering of applause among an otherwise unsettled reception. No nation was welcomed more harshly.
This was fitting. The International Olympic Committee embarrassingly allowed the worst state-sponsored doping machine this side of East Germany to enter these Olympics, and enter they did, 271 Russians out of an original team of 387. That means 70 percent of the Russian team made it to Rio, casting doubt over every event they enter.
When IOC President Thomas Bach, who acquiesced to his friend Vladimir Putin by letting the bulk of the Russian team into Rio, later advised the athletes to “respect the Olympic values,” he might have added, “Except you, Russia.”
But that was one of the lone discordant notes of the evening. The 10-member refugee team received more applause than the United States delegation, which is always a huge favorite — and deservedly so, with only the arrival of the Brazilians greeted more loudly.
There was a lot to cheer at this opening ceremony, where nothing went wrong in Rio, at least for one glorious evening.