Ready or not, 2016 Olympics to open Friday

Free Press wire reports | 8/5/2016, 7:40 a.m.
The 2016 Summer Olympics open Friday in Rio de Janeiro. But the typical opulence and spectacle of the opening ceremony ...

The 2016 Summer Olympics open Friday in Rio de Janeiro.

But the typical opulence and spectacle of the opening ceremony will break from tradition. Organizers in Brazil will depart from the recent tradition of large-scale and expensive shows, and instead will feature a low-emissions cauldron and an “analogue” experience, executive producer Marco Balich said Monday.

With days to go until the first games in South America get under way, Mr. Balich told Reuters the show at the Maracana stadium was tailored to the current economic conditions in the country.

“This is not an opulent event given the situation in Brazil,” said Mr. Balich, who has been involved in several past Olympic ceremonies, including the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Brazil is suffering its worst recession since the 1930s, with Olympic organizers struggling for cash and racing to finish venues and infrastructure projects days before the global showpiece event starts.

A metro extension to the Olympic park opened only last Saturday, with the $3.1 billion expansion of the transit rail to Barra, the area housing the Olympic park and the athletes’ village 18 miles from the stadium, the key to the smooth transport of tens of thousands of fans and athletes between the games’ different competition zones.

The main ramp at the sailing center also collapsed last Saturday, adding another headache to last-minute preparations.

Security measures were being put in place as more than 10,000 athletes are expected to compete despite some deciding to stay home because of threats from the Zika virus and many Russian athletes being banned following an investigation of state-sponsored doping in Russia.

Early in the week, the British and Australian teams announced most of their members would not participate in the opening ceremony because of early competition the next day.

“There are some last-minute challenges but our Brazilian friends are addressing them,” IOC President Thomas Bach said. “It is all coming together. We are looking forward to great games.”

Mr. Balich said the opening will not have “the grandiosity of Beijing, the huge special effects of Athens, the eccentricity and technological skills of London. It is an analogue opening ceremony,” he said.

The show, expected to cost about half the $42 million spent by London in 2012, is based on the themes of sustainability, the Brazilian smile and “gambiarra,” the ability to keep functioning with makeshift fixes.

“It is a very contemporary ceremony. Even without special effects, it talks to people about the future in a very humble way. It is not a display of how good or modern Brazil is.”

Opening ceremonies are among the best-kept secrets of the games along with the final torchbearer who will light the cauldron.

That cauldron, however, will not be like past big structures with huge flames, visible for miles.

“It will be a low-emission cauldron as it would be an oxymoron to talk about sustainability and then burn massive amounts of gas,” Mr. Balich said. “It is a small burner with a kinetic sculpture.”

While the real flame will be accessible only to Olympic stadium ticket holders, a smaller copy will be placed in a live site in central Rio for fans to take photos.

Some 4,800 people will take part in the opening ceremony, along with about 11,000 athletes, who will enter the stadium and, due to the lack of a track, will gather at the center of the legendary football arena.

“The ceremony has a purpose,” Mr. Balich said. “Talking in a positive way in terms of sustainability. Doing a dry celebration is not enough. The fact that we are taking position might not make everyone happy but that’s what it is.”