Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games have been formally opened with a lavish and ceremony at Maracana stadium.
Broadcast to an estimated audience of three billion, the ceremony celebrated Brazil’s history, culture and natural beauty, before former marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic cauldron.
The build-up to Rio 2016 has been played out against a deep recession and political protests in Brazil.
Rio Olympic Games, the first to be held in South America, have also been disrupted by concerns over the Russian doping scandal, the Zika virus and problems with the city’s security, infrastructure and venues.
Organizers will hope the focus can now shift to the action in 28 sports, with 207 teams, after the Games of the 31st Olympiad were officially opened.
The Olympic cauldron was lit by Vanderlei De Lima, who won bronze for Brazil in the marathon at the 2004 Games after he was grappled by a spectator while leading the race.
With Brazil’s economy struggling, the budget for the opening ceremony was thought to be considerably less than the $50 million spent on London 2012’s extravagant display.
While Rio’s event did not match the enormous ambition of the ceremony directed by Danny Boyle four years ago, those inside the Maracana were treated to a show that mixed light displays, fireworks, dancing and music.
After a simple but emotional rendition of the Brazilian national anthem, sung and played on acoustic guitar by singer-songwriter Paulinho da Viola, video projections beamed on to the floor of the stadium explored the history of the nation.
Starting with images of micro-organisms dividing and giant sculptures of microbes – representing the beginning of life – the ceremony showed the contributions made by the nation’s indigenous peoples, by Portuguese explorers, by African slaves and by Japanese immigrants to Brazil’s history and culture.
Performers strode across projections of giant buildings, symbolizing the cities of Brazil, and a recreation of a 14-bis biplane – the invention of Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont, which first flew in 1906 – drew one of the biggest cheers of the evening as it flew out of the arena.
One of the warmest welcomes of the evening was given to a team consisting of refugee athletes – the penultimate team to enter the stadium.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said the refugee athletes were sending “a message of hope to the millions of refugees around the globe”.
The local crowd of 60,000 exploded with noise as the Brazil team, with London 2012 modern pentathlon bronze medalist Yane Marques flying the nation’s flag, emerged into the stadium to chants of “Brasil, Brasil, Brasil”.
Thomas Bach shone a positive light on the Games, despite the problems around the organization in the build-up to Rio 2016.
“These first Olympic Games from South America go from Brazil to the entire world,” he said.
“All Brazilians can be very proud tonight. With the Olympic Games as a catalyst, you have achieved in only seven years what generations before you could only dream of.
“You have transformed Rio de Janiero into a modern metropolis and made it even more beautiful. You managed this at a very difficult time in Brazilian history. We have always believed in you.”
Rio 2016 president Carlos Nuzman said he was “the proudest man alive”.
He added: “I am proud of my city, proud of my country. Let’s celebrate together as we work together to build the Games.”