After some good, some bad and some ugly, Rio throws final party to say goodbye to 2016 Olympics

Brazil and the world bids farewell to the first Olympic Games in South America

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 9:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2016, 11:45am

Brazil and the world bid farewell on Sunday to the first Olympic Games in South America, a 16-day spectacle that combined numerous highlight reel moments with ugly and even bizarre episodes that sometimes overshadowed the competitions.

Thousands of fans braved strong winds and sporadic rains to watch the closing ceremony in iconic Maracana Stadium, a finale meant to be both one last bash and to take care of some business – namely signal the transition to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.

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The final party was designed to be more low-key than the opening, which focused heavily on Rio. The ceremony opened with original footage of Alberto Santos Dumont, the man that Brazilians recognise as the inventor of the airplane. Brazilians also believe he is the first to ever wear a wristwatch, an invention made by a friend so he could see the time in flight.

The theme of the show was “Brazilians can do with their bare hands,” a nod to the emerging economy of the world’s fifth largest nation.

Dressed in colourful feathers, dozens of dancers formed in the shape of the arches of Lapa, a popular area of Rio akin to Roman ruins, then morphed to make the shape of iconic Sugarloaf before quickly changing again, this time to the official 2016 symbol.

Samba legend Martinho da Vila, whose tunes make their way into many popular telenovelas, sang “Carinhoso,” or “Affectionate.”

Then the athletes poured in under a light rain, waving their flags while many shook their bodies to samba-infused pop that made the stadium feel like a Carnival parade.

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The games had many memorable moments, both for Brazilian competitors at home and athletes from around the world.

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Soccer-crazed Brazil got partial payback against Germany, winning gold two years after a 7-1 World Cup final shellacking that left many in Latin America’s largest nation fuming. American gymnast Simone Biles asserted her dominance with four golds, swimmer Michael Phelps added five more to up his staggering total to 23 and the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, put on his usual show with three golds just days before turning 30 years old.

But there were also ugly episodes, like American swimmer Ryan Lochte’s fabricated story about a harrowing robbery that was actually an intoxicated-fuelled vandalism of a gas station bathroom, and bizarre issues like Olympic diving pools going from crystal blue to gunky, algae green – at a time when Rio’s water quality in open waters is one of the biggest local environmental issues.

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Many people, from Brazilians to International Olympic Committee members, will spend time analysing how things went for the Rio Games in the months ahead. But on Sunday, one strong sentiment was relief – that despite some problems, overall the games went well.

That wasn’t a given going in. The Zika virus scared away some competitors and tourists, rampant street crime in Rio and recent extremist attacks around the world raised fears about safety and Brazil’s political crisis, and the economic angst behind it, threatened to cast a pall over the competitions.