The party begins
Friday started in a frenzy in Rio. Brilliant sunshine had people swarming all over the sidewalks and beaches. Long tailbacks consumed the city streets as almost everyone got into the mood of the Olympics. Not everyone though; some had more pressing issues on their minds, and they took to the busy intersection of Copacabana to press home their demands.
The demonstration was large, it was colourful and it was boisterous. A young couple from Brasilia, who had come here to watch the Olympic events, said the protest was demanding the ouster of interim president Michel Temer, who they believe assumed power through a coup, and re-instatement of Dilma Roussef, the former president who is subject to an impeachment process.
Military police stood head on as the protesters kept chanting their slogans against Temer, against big corporations and against Temer's foreign allies. The protests ebbed away as evening ensued, and the traffic, which was mostly heading to the Maracana for the opening bash, only grew thicker.
The subways were even more crowded. To avoid the heavy traffic and the risk of missing out on the opening ceremony, thousands of people crammed into the subways, leaving precious little space for one to move or even stand properly. Volunteers deployed for the games shouted at the top of their voice to let people know which station to alight and board a different train which leaves to the Maracana.
After a more than 40-minute ride, the Maracana towered above. The iconic venue, most famous for Brazil's heartbreaking defeat to Uruguay in the final of 1950 FIFA World Cup which is believed to have recorded an audience of close to 200,000, is a much larger and modernistic complex today, yet with only 78,000-capacity inside the stadium. And there weren't any of those seats left unoccupied long before the opening ceremony got underway.
A few Mexican waves went around the galleries as performers kept the crowd entertained before the real deal began. From the moment of the first beat of the drum to the rhythm of the bossa nova and the moves of the samba, the show kept the audience riveted for its length of four hours: with songs ringing around and dance moves simulated around the stands. The athletes carrying the Olympic flag were greeted with boisterous cheers while the speeches of the International Olympic Committee president and the Brazilian Olympic Committee president were met with loud approval.
Most of the teams received loud cheers from the crowd but the most powerful one was reserved for the Brazil team, which was led by pentathlon star Yane Marques. And then Vanderlei de Lima lit the Olympic cauldron before fireworks and samba moves wrapped up the night's party, with the hope that the next three weeks of the sporting extravaganza would lift the gloom that been haunting this country for the past few years.