Athletics took centre stage at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games opening ceremony as marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima lit the flame in the cannonball-shaped cauldron – a small and low-emission model befitting the environmental theme of the Games – on Friday (5).
De Lima got rousing cheers as the flames lit up the night sky in Rio and it was appropriate recognition of the fact that he embodies so many aspects of the Olympic spirit.
De Lima was leading the men’s marathon at the 2004 Olympic Games when he was attacked by a spectator at the 36km mark.
He recovered to take the bronze medal in a race won by Italy’s Stefano Baldini and was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal by the International Olympic Committee for sportsmanship at the Olympic Games.
Another cauldron was lit in the city's port area early Saturday that will be displayed for all of Rio residents to enjoy.
During the ceremony, two-time Olympic champion Kipchoge Keino of Kenya was honoured with the 'Olympic Laurel' for his lifetime contribution to the Olympic movement.
Keino, who won the 1500m in 1968 and the 3000m steeplechase in 1972, was the inaugural recipient of the honour that will be awarded at the opening ceremony of each subsequent edition of the Olympic Games.
No fewer than 207 teams were represented at the magnificent opening ceremony that embraced Brazil's culture and history. Track and field athletes were flag bearers for 58 of the national teams.
Famous names from athletics carrying their national flag in the parade included Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller, Botswana’s Nijel Amos, Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova-Collio, Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure, Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos, Grenada’s Kirani James, Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Panama’s Alonso Edward, South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk, Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott.
The penultimate team was the first-ever Refugee Olympic Team of 10 sportsmen and women, which includes six athletes; their flag-bearer, middle-distance runner Rose Nathike Lokonyen, fled war in South Sudan and ran her first race in a refugee camp in northern Kenya.
Only Brazil's team, which marched last, drew a louder roar from the crowd than the refugee team.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF