A blustery storm, a touch of melancholy, and a sense of pride converged at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Olympics as Brazil breathed a collective sigh of relief at having pulled off South America’s first Games.
After a gruelling 17 days, Rio de Janeiro cast aside early struggles with empty venues, security scares, and a mysterious green diving pool to throw a huge Carnival-like party.
Samba dancers, singers, drummers, and a giant plumed macaw float mixed with hundreds of athletes in the storied Maracana stadium while a final volley of fireworks lit up the sky.
Rio handed over the Olympic flag to Tokyo, site of the 2020 Summer Games, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared in the stadium dressed as popular video game character Mario, tunnelling from Tokyo to Rio.
Bach declared the Rio Games closed and expressed hope that they had left a lasting mark on the metropolitan area of 12m people.
“These Olympic Games are leaving a unique legacy for generations to come,” he said. “History will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games.”
In a final symbolic act, the Olympic flame that had burned since August 5 was then extinguished in a downpour of artificial rain.
In the midst of the worst economic recession since the 1930s, Brazil’s opening and closing ceremonies relied more on the country’s unique talents and natural beauty and less on expensive technology.
At times it was hard to focus on the sporting triumphs taking place across the sprawling city.
Brazilians could nevertheless take heart in the fact that there were no major mishaps or breaches after deadly attacks in Europe and the US had prompted the biggest security operation in Brazil’s history with 85,000 troops.
“Even with all our problems we pulled off a good Olympics. Nothing too bad happened and I’d say it was better than expected,” said Nivea Araujo, a Rio resident at the closing ceremony.
For many in the soccer-mad nation, the best Olympic moments happened in the Maracana, where Brazil defeated Germany in soccer on Saturday and pieced together a widely hailed opening ceremony despite the tight budget.
Rio won the right to host the Games in 2009, when the economy was booming and millions were pushing into the middle class.
“We are in a difficult moment as a country right now, we can’t hide that, but the Games were scheduled and I’m glad we could enjoy them,” said Alessandro Freitas, also from Rio.
One of the major concerns for Brazilians is the final cost of the Games and how much they actually helped improve the city’s infrastructure. Many residents could not afford tickets to events, leaving them feeling on the sidelines of the city’s biggest undertaking.
By yesterday morning, with the Games no longer a distraction, Brazil got back to its dour reality of duelling political and economic crises. An impeachment vote in coming days could lead to the permanent ouster of suspended President Dilma Rousseff.
Interim President Michel Temer, who was booed at the opening ceremony, decided not to attend the closing event.