Brazil said goodbye to the Olympics with a closing ceremony reminiscent of Rio’s Carnival, handing the reigns to Japan in style.
With torrential rain threatening to quell the mood inside the electric Maracana stadium, the pressure was back on the creative team to serve up something special. Despite having prospered in the face of political problems and violent protests during opening night and throughout the 31st Olympiad, most anticipated the ceremonies spirit and exuberance would again prevail. Brazil would rightly be expected to brave any obstacle.
The closing ceremony proved another triumph of latin culture in the face of scandal and adversity, but at times, it also seemed to stray from the script. The steady, sultry beat of the samba was broken to make way for a stilted performance of Carry Me by Norwegian pop-star DJ Kygo, before Super Mario emerged from a trademark green pipe, stripping away the moustache and revealing himself to be the Japanese Prime Minister. Strangely enough, the odd sequence of performances proved to be thematically eclectic.
Rower Kim Brennan was named the Australian flag bearer, just ahead of Olympic silver medallist Jared Tallent.
“To lead this Team into the Maracana will be my greatest honour,” she said in a statement.
All through the ceremony the drizzling rain glistened as it traversed the array of brilliant colours illuminating the stadium. The chromatic mist galvanised the crowd, feeding their emotions as it drenched the stage, and the performers. There was a certain symbolic truth to it; maybe because this was a celebration of resolve and togetherness for a country with their backs against the wall. Perhaps the Brazilian people will feel that in spite of their nation’s hatred and division, somewhere beneath the veneer of darkness there lies the possibility for unity and compassion.
The athletes danced and celebrated as the rain poured, while the drumming of the batucada reached its crescendo, then relented, in an infectious rhythm. A colourful mass of performers in bright costumes gyrated and paraded themselves in a manner that hinted at the lack of inhibition and lasciviousness synonymous with latin culture.
The ceremony capped an event full of all the uncanny athleticism, heartbreak, and triumph we’ve come to expect from the games – All in all, 27 world records were broken, as were 91 olympic records. Michael Phelps won 5 more gold medals, bringing his overall tally to 23 – Since the Olympics conception in 1896, only 38 entire countries have won more. Usain Bolt’s record in track is equally impressive, having completed a historic “triple triple”, or winning three gold medals in three consecutive Olympic games. The Brazilian football team led by Pablo Neymar ended their gold-medal drought in the Olympic games on home soil, a peculiar statistic considering they’re the most successful nation in footballing history with five world cup victories.
The games didn’t disappoint with bizarre occurrences either. A pool mysteriously turned radioactive green, leading an athlete to remark the whole building “smelt like a fart”. The plot thickened when the Brazilian authorities claim that the discolouration was caused by algae was refuted by the International Swimming Federation. Controversial American swimmer Ryan Lochte, and three fellow medalists, appeared to be caught in a cheeky lie after claiming to be robbed at gunpoint, following a drunken night out in Rio. Australian swimmer Josh Palmer couldn’t resist the lure of the Brazilian party scene either, and found himself banned from the closing ceremony after being mugged while partying in Copacabana. And of course there was the spitting image Kim Jong-un impersonator, waving the North Korean flag, and flipping off the cameras.
Carlos Arthur Nuzman, lawyer and former Olympian, returned to the stage to farewell the games. His emotion was as pure and uplifting as it had been during the opening ceremony.
“I’m the happiest man alive. Lets celebrate together this victory of the sport,” he roared.
But in what appeared to be an unexpected continuation of his freudian slip on August 5, 2016, he said;
“I am proud of my country, my city and my people, we are vibrant people, and lovers.”
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also returned to declare the Olympics officially over.
“Thankyou to the olympic athletes, you have amazed the world with your incredile performances. You have shown us the ability of sport to unite the world,” he said. “You are sending a powerful message of peace to the whole world. Together we can even aim higher, united in our diversity, we are even stronger.”
He took the opportunity to thank the first ever Olympic team of refugees for their contribution.
“Thankyou, refugee athletes. You have inspired us with your talent and human spirit. You are a symbol of hope for millions of refugees in the world. You will have a place in our hearts forever.”
He declared Rio was now changed forever.
“History will talk about Rio De Janeiro before, and a much better Rio De Janeiro after the olympic games.”
The highlight of the ceremony came shortly after Mr Bach took the flag from Brazil, and presented it to Japan. The world was treated to a skit which saw Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his limousine, bemoaning his inability to attend the closing ceremony. That is until he puts on a Super Mario hat, inexplicably burrows through the earth’s crust, and rises through a green pipe situated dead centre in the Maracana in full Mario garb, to the delight of the roaring audience. Perhaps it serves as an appetiser of what we’re going to be witnessing in Tokyo 2020?
The ceremony found itself in good hands with Rosa Maghales at the creative helm, who didn’t let the depleted budget discourage her. Having designed carnivals for more than 30 years, and winning a number of awards along the way, she delivered in elevating the emotion without the fancy light-shows and breath-taking visuals, and rather by being raw and honest in her portrayal of latin culture. Themed like Rio’s famous Carnival street-party, the ceremony showcased a culture rich in art, history, and passion.
Brazil’s reputation has been stained with its history of crime and corruption. They have found themselves picked apart under the microscope of the global media. There is shame, and there is sadness, but within it, there is hope, and there is a willingness to facilitate change.
With heavy hearts, and marvellous, heart-felt spectacle, they say goodbye to Rio 2016. – Sergio Magliarachi