Rio radiates despite Zika scare as 31st Games begin
RIO DE JANEIRO—A breathtaking electronic spectacle advocating the healing of the planet and accompanied by the bouncy samba rhythms arranged by Brazil’s greatest musicians highlighted the virtual carnival that ushered in the Games of the 31st Olympiad Friday night (Saturday morning in Manila) at the iconic Maracanã Stadium here.
There were no energetic, scantily clad dancers expected of a big Rio party, but the mood celebrating the Olympics’ arrival in South America augured well for a fortnight of serious sporting battles ahead.
The four-hour extravaganza, wrapped in a very tight security blanket, changed some paradigms of the Summer Games’ opening ceremonies. There were the accents on environment protection and biodiversity, for instance.
The show may not have eclipsed that of the high-budget 2012 London Games opening in terms of electronic magic, but its inventiveness and humanity were more than sufficient to champion global unity through sports, as espoused by the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin.
Kenya’s legendary long-distance runner Kip Keino, Brazil’s sporting heroes that carried the Olympic five-ring flag to the 74,738-seat Maracanã, the International Refugee Team and, of course, the home delegation received the loudest cheers in the nippy Rio de Janeiro winter night.
Sartorially elegant in their barong Tagalog, the tiny Philippine delegation, led by chief of mission Jose Romasanta, entered the stadium with spring in their steps, perhaps to ward off the chill as well.
Only seven of the country’s 13 athletes marched behind flag-bearer Ian Lariba and Romasanta in the parade. The Philippines was the 75th of the 207 delegations to enter the stadium according to the strange order of Brazil’s Portuguese alphabet.
Either absent from the affair or told to rest for their crucial matches on Saturday were boxers Charly Suarez and Rogen Ladon, weightlifters Hidilyn Diaz and Nestor Colonia, golfer Miguel Tabuena and Filipino-Japanese judoka Kodo Nakano.
Suarez fights in the first round of the lightweight (60 kilograms) class, Lariba competes in the singles preliminaries in table tennis, and Lacuna swims in the first of seven heats in the men’s 400-meter freestyle.
The newly arrived Tabuena and Nakano, as well as Diaz and Colonia, excused themselves from the rite to conserve energy.
With Lariba, the country’s first table tennis Olympian, were long jumper Marestella Torres-Sunang, hurdler Eric Cray, marathoner Mary Joy Tabal and swimmers Jasmine Alkhaldi and Jessie Khing Lacuna.
Even before International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach welcomed the delegations, six Air Force helicopters hovered in different elevations over the stadium, making a collective hum that could be mistaken for the breed of mosquitoes bearing the virulent Zika virus that have been terrorizing Rio’s neighborhoods rich and poor.
Oscar Schmidt, Brazil’s basketball superstar of yesteryear, supermodel Giselle Bundchen, who catwalked across the pitch to the tune of “The Girl From Ipanema,” and legendary marathoner Vanderlei de Lima who lit an Olympic cauldron that transformed into a giant disco ball, received the loudest stadium reception for individuals.
In his brief speech, Bach praised the Olympic team made up of athlete-refugees which he described as “an uplifting addition” to this edition of the Summer Games.
“In this Olympic world, we do not just tolerate diversity,” Bach said. “We welcome you as an enrichment.”
Brazil’s acting president Michel Temer declared the 43-sport Games open.