Rio 2016 opens with sparkling ceremony

Rio de Janeiro - The Maracana Stadium sparkled in all its historic glory on Friday night (Saturday morning, SA time) as the 2016 Rio Olympics were opened in stunning fashion. 

There was no Pele - the Brazilian football legend's ill health prevented him from lighting the Olympic flame - but the show went on. 

Almost 5 000 performers took centre stage to pull off a production that relied heavily on new technology in the form of lighting and graphics.

There had been concerns beforehand that the limited budget allocated to the ceremony would lead to a less-than-impressive production, but under the leadership of director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, 2002) the cast provided an evening that would not be forgotten by those who took their seats in the 80 000-seater venue. 

The lighting was trippy, the music and sound effects constantly intense and the props extravagant, but it all combined to provide a walk through Brazilian history from the birth of the rain forest to the urbanisation of modern times.  

The crowd roared as Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen made her grand walk across the turf. It was a brief appearance, but one that boasted enough star power to bring the house down. 

As the show drew to a close, there was a darker feel to proceedings with a large emphasis on global warming and pollution. 

But once that segment had been respectfully observed and applauded, the carnival atmosphere resumed as the nations made their way out in alphabetical order. 

Those staying up in South Africa did not have to wait long to see Wayde van Niekerk leading out their Olympic team. 

Announced as 'Africa do Sul', South Africa appeared third behind Greece (who are always first) and Afghanistan.

They initially looked a sizable unit as they paraded their way around the Maracana in striking yellow and green tracksuits (most of the other nations went for a more formal look), but as the participating countries continued rolling out Team South Africa began to look smaller and smaller as the ground filled up with athletes. 

Lloyd Burnard is Sport24's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for the duration of the 2016 Olympics ...

Wayde van Niekerk and Team South Africa

The crowd sparkles ...

The budget may have been modest, but the show was still inspiring ...

That Gisele moment ...

Michael Phelps leads out Team USA ... (All images courtesy of Getty)

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