Rio Opening Ceremony Highlights Gisele Bundchen and Climate Change; Michael Phelps Leads Team USA

Michael Phelps Opening Ceremony Rio H 2016
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The crowd roared when Bundchen sashayed from one side of the 78,000-seat Maracana Stadium to the other during Friday's opening ceremony for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

With fireworks forming the word "Rio" in the sky, hip-wiggling dancers and supermodel Gisele Bundchen shimmering to the tune of the "Girl from Ipanema," Rio de Janiero welcomed the world to the first Olympic Games in South America with a serious message: Let's take better care of our planet.

After one of the roughest-ever rides from vote to games by an Olympic host, the city of beaches, carnival, grinding poverty and sun-kissed wealth lifted the curtain on the games of the 31st Olympiad with a high-energy gala celebration of Brazil's can-do spirit, biodiversity and melting pot history.

The opening ceremony, a cut-price but welcome moment of levity for a nation beset by economic and political troubles, featured performers as slaves, laboring with backs bent, gravity-defying climbers hanging from the ledges of buildings in Brazil's teeming megacities and — of course — dancers, all hips and wobble, grooving to thumping funk and sultry samba.

The crowd roared when Bundchen sashayed from one side of the 78,000-seat Maracana Stadium to the other, as Tom Jobim's grandson, Daniel, played his grandfather's famous song about the Ipanema girl "tall and tan and young and lovely." She wore a metallic sequined gown by Brazilian designer Alexandre Herchcovitch.

The ceremony, which was a showcase for Brazil's history, culture, diversity and hopes, was something opening ceremony creative director Fernando Meirelles said Donald Trump would "hate" ahead of its debut. Meirelles, the Oscar-nominated and renowned Brazilian director of 2002's City of God, took to Twitter earlier on Friday to say the GOP presidential nominee "will hate the ceremony."

The show wasn't all frivolous and fun. Images showed swirling clouds of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in the Earth's atmosphere and images of world cities and regions — Amsterdam, Florida, Shanghai, Dubai — being swamped by rising seas. The peace symbol, tweaked into the shape of a tree, was projected on the floor of the stadium where Germany won the World Cup in 2014.

"The heat is melting the icecap," a voice intoned. "It's disappearing very quickly."

Before the show, in a video broadcast, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the games "celebrate the best of humanity" and appealed for an Olympic truce, calling on "all warring parties to lay down their weapons" during the two weeks of sporting achievement.

The athletes were being given tree seeds, plus cartridge of soil. When they sprout, they will be planted in a Rio park. There's 207 species of trees being planted, one for each delegation at the games. Years from now, organizers of the Rio Games hope there are 11,000 new trees in Brazil — one for each athlete at the Games.

Greece, the historical and spiritual home of the games, led the march by athletes from 205 nations and territories into the stadium. 

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, led Team USA, the largest with 549 competitors. After 18 gold medals and 22 medals overall in his storied Olympic career, Phelps, as the flagbearer, led the contingent of red, white and blue-clad American athletes.

Phelps was supposed to be flying the fashion flag as well, as he was wearing a Ralph Lauren blazer with illuminated panels on front and back, intended to make the U.S. Olympic Team logo on the chest, and the "USA" on the back, glow. However, the wearable tech proved to be a fashion fail on TV.

More than 500 Americans are on the Olympic team, though as was the case with Phelps in past years, not all of them marched in the opening. Phelps' competition schedule kept him from attending the first four openings of his Olympic career, and many athletes from around the world — if they're competing on Saturday — tend to pass on the ceremony.

The U.S. women's soccer team wasn't at the stadium because of their schedule and how far they are from the opening, but planned on having their own private ceremony of sorts. Players were set to wear their ceremony uniforms and essentially pretend marching, as if they were in Rio.

History's greatest Olympian will be looking to add to his record haul of 22 medals, in three individual swims plus relays, before the Aug. 21 closing ceremony.

Tennis star Andy Murray — who has Olympic gold, two Wimbledon titles, a U.S. Open crown and is currently the No. 2 player in the world — was the flagbearer for Britain. He will play both singles and doubles in Rio, the latter alongside his brother Jamie.

The British team got a big ovation from the crowd in Rio, as did the French team when it entered moments earlier. French President Francois Hollande was in the crowd, cheering for his nation's athletes as they walked past.

On behalf of all 11,288 competitors (6,182 men; 5,106 women), a Brazilian athlete will pledge an oath that they won't take banned drugs — a promise likely to ring false to many fans after the scandal of government-orchestrated cheating in Russia.

While it escaped a blanket ban, Russia is paying the price in the shape of a smaller team, whittled down from a 389 athletes to around 270.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt, the two-time defending champion in the Olympic 100- and 200-meter races, skipped the opening ceremony.

Iran picked a woman, archer Zahra Nemati, as flagbearer for its team made up overwhelmingly of men. Nemati, who is competing at the Olympics and Paralympics, where she's a defending gold medalist, had a big smile and a wave for the crowd as she carried Iran's flag into the opening ceremony in her wheelchair.

After the grandeur of Beijing's opening ceremony in 2008 and the high-tech, cheeky inventiveness of London's in 2012, Rio's was earthier, less swish and still inventive. Creative director Fernando Meirelles said their budget was slashed by half as Brazil's economic recession bit ever harder.

He said he hoped that the ceremony would still be "a drug for depression in Brazil."

When Brazil entered — saving the host and the biggest ovation for last — fans chanted in unison, with long and loud cheers from the 60,000 or so inside Maracana Stadium. 

The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said the Rio Games will promote peace, saying all Brazilians "can be very proud tonight," then went on to talk about the importance of these Olympics.

Bach said, "We are living in a world of crises, mistrust and uncertainty. Here is our Olympic answer: The 10,000 best athletes in the world, competing with each other, at the same time living peacefully together in one Olympic Village, sharing their meals and their emotions."

Bach added that in this Olympic world, "we are all equal" — words that were met with applause.

After Brazil's most famous athlete — soccer star Pele — said he will not appear, the Olympic mystery of who might light the cauldron remained intact.

And it was Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, who was denied an Olympic gold medal 12 years ago, who surprised to light the cauldron, signaling the start of the Rio Games.

De Lima was one of the suspected candidates after soccer legend Pele revealed earlier Friday that health problems would keep him from attending. So 12 years later than he likely would have, De Lima got his golden moment.

De Lima was leading the 2004 race at the Athens Games when a protester and disrupted his run. The spectator, defrocked Irish priest Neil Horan, attacked him and he fell back from first to third place, winning the bronze medal. He was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship for that race and has been lauded for how he's handled the incident.

The cauldron was designed by American sculptor Anthony Howe, who told the Associated Press he was inspired by life in the tropics. There will be two cauldrons in Rio, one at the Maracana soccer stadium that is hosting the opening ceremony and another open to the public in downtown Rio.

Gustavo Kuerten carried the torch into the stadium, then handed it to Brazilian basketball legend Hortencia Marcari. She brought it to the stage, then De Lima brought it up the stairs and held it aloft for 60,000 to cheer.

Brazilian officials wanted this cauldron smaller than most, a reminder to reduce global warming caused by fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. The flame is housed in a giant sculpture, with spirals to represent the sun.

NBC broadcast the opening ceremony on a one-hour tape delay because it wants the entertainment spectacle to be shown completely in U.S. primetime. Rio is one hour later than Eastern time. The decision did not sit well with many viewers who took to Twitter to bemoan the delay.

President Barack Obama spoke to NBC ahead of the opening of the Rio Games., saying the Games build a sense of "common humanity" as countries pursue the ideal of sending their best to compete "in a spirit of goodwill."

Obama says coverage of the events also tells stories of individual athletes working hard to achieve a high level of competition. He says telling such stories "transports you into another place."