RIO DE JANEIRO - Tokyo took center stage as Rio de Janeiro handed over the Olympic flag to the 2020 host city at a rain-lashed but joyous closing ceremony for the Rio Games on Sunday.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, wearing a light-colored kimono, took the flag from Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, before Tokyo 2020 organizers gave an eight-minute presentation that saw Prime Minister Shinzo Abe emerge from a large green pipe in homage to Nintendo character Mario.
“Super Mario was amazing,” Otavio Camargo, a Brazilian volunteer watching the show at a wet and sparsely attended Maracana Stadium, told The Japan Times.
“The prime minister coming up the pipe was very nice. I think it was the best part of the whole ceremony.”
Tokyo gave its presentation, produced by the stage directors for pop group Perfume, among others, as Rio prepared to bring the curtain down on the first Olympic Games ever to be held in South America.
Abe and Mario appeared in a video segment on the big screens before the prime minister emerged in person from the pipe, briefly dressed like the video game character and holding a red ball.
A gymnastics team from Aomori University then performed with computer-generated imagery to showcase Japan’s technology to the world, before Abe handed the ball to two-time double Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Kosuke Kitajima to loud cheers from the crowd.
“Mario is a part of our childhood,” said Camargo. “He’s very popular in Brazil. Everyone likes him. I think the whole ceremony was good but that was amazing.”
Rio bid farewell to an Olympic Games that has widely been hailed as a success despite misgivings over the city’s high crime rate and concern at how a country laden with economic problems can afford to pay the estimated $12 billion bill.
Bach declared the games closed with a nod to the political situation that has seen Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff suspended amid impeachment proceedings, and thanked the 10-athlete refugee team that competed at Rio 2016 under the Olympic flag.
“During these last 16 days, a united Brazil entertained the world with unforgettable and emotional moments of pure happiness despite the rather difficult surrounding environment,” said Bach.
“You have many reasons to be happy. These Olympic Games demonstrated that diversity is a priceless asset. The Rio Games granted us the opportunity to celebrate diversity. Our Olympic values created unity within this diversity.
“Thank you, dear refugee athletes. You have inspired us with your talent and human spirit. You are a symbol of hope to the millions of refugees in the world. We will continue to stay at your side after these Olympic Games.”
The closing ceremony paid tribute to Brazil’s arts and music, featuring samba, drumming and a carnival atmosphere that held up despite strong winds and rain battering the partially covered stadium.
The Brazilian national anthem was sung by 27 children forming the stars on a giant rendering of the country’s flag, and the Olympic flame was extinguished as singer and actress Mariene de Castro performed in front of the eco-conscious cauldron.
“Throughout our bid to host the 31st Olympiad, we always said that Rio was ready, and we can now declare it,” said Rio 2016 Organizing Committee President Carlos Nuzman. “We did it. We made it.
“Rio has made history. The city displayed not only its beauty, but also its capacity to host the biggest sporting event in the world. Rio has been renovated, transformed. It was seven years of a lot of struggle and work, but it was worth it. Every minute.
“Organizing the games in Rio was a challenge. A successful challenge. I will say this again: I am proud of my country, proud of my city, proud of my people.”
Brazilian Interim President Michel Temer did not attend after he was loudly booed at the opening ceremony