23 August 2017
When the 31st Olympic Games came to an end, Maria Esther Bueno had the honour of opening the vibrant closing ceremony at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã Stadium.
“It was the proudest moment of my life,” she said.
“I was supposed to be smiling but I was so emotional standing there, holding the Brazilian flag as the choir sang our national anthem, that I just couldn’t!”
The segment opened the final proceedings with Maria Esther standing on the platform with the folded flag, which she presented to the audience and then handed to the Brazilian Army Major alongside to pass on to the Colour Guard, who hoisted it high on the flagpole alongside the Olympic flag.
The Youth Choir sang the Brazilian National Anthem as a giant rendition of the flag appeared around them on the video floor of the stadium.
“We all faced the flag as it went up and it was an incredible occasion,” she added.
As the anthem came to a close, the individuals in the choir moved to various new positions to form the stars on the flag as the spectators in the stadium cheered.
“It was just fantastic!”
It was also the start of a fantastic Brazilian party.
From choreographed dances and musical performances to fireworks and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe getting a helping hand from Super Mario, the athletes and dignitaries bid farewell to the 2016 Games and conducted the handover ceremony for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Samba dancers, singers, drummers, and a giant plumed macaw float mixed with hundreds of athletes in the storied Maracanã stadium, while a volley of fireworks lit up the sky.
“We had rehearsals earlier in the day and went through it all at least ten times,” Maria Esther said.
“It was an incredible stage production and it was all organised very well. It was fun meeting everyone and seeing them warm up. It was such a shame the weather was so bad.
“Backstage they had make-up people, hair dressers, costume makers and goodness knows what else, lounges and catering for the masses of performers.”
A blustery storm added a touch of melancholy to the proceedings but the sense of pride Brazilians could take from having pulled off South America’s first Games so successfully was tangible to the worldwide audience.
Brazil could well draw a collective sigh of relief after a gruelling 17 days of competition during which the organisers struggled with empty venues, security scares, and a mysterious green diving pool.
The athletes entered the arena together, led by Greece in accordance with tradition.
Before the huge Carnival-like party got going, Thomas Bach, the IOC President 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 5 August was extinguished in a downpour of hardly-needed artificial rain.
“There were no major mishaps or breaches of security,” reflected Maria Esther.
“Thanks to the extra security, which made it difficult to get around. We are relieved nothing awful happened [during the Games].
“With all our problems, we pulled off a great Olympics, I think. One that has brought the country a little closer together, I hope.”
One of the major concerns for Brazilians is the final cost of the Games and how much they have actually helped improve Rio’s infrastructure when many residents could not afford tickets to events, leaving them feeling on the sidelines of the city’s biggest undertaking.
“That was a great pity,” Maria Esther said. “That the locals stayed away, some in protest and others for economical reasons.
“Brazil has many problems to face now and the legacy of the Games will hopefully be appreciated more down the line in future years, when we can look back with pride at what Rio achieved here.”