Hard to believe, but it’s been four years since Daniel Craig, the Spice Girls, J.K. Rowling, Kenneth Branagh, Mr. Bean, Queen Elizabeth II herself and a couple of camera-ready corgis kicked off the Summer Olympics in London.
Those opening ceremonies set a rather high bar — what with 007 and the freaking queen (!) skydiving (!!) in to get things started* — so 2016’s Brazil-set games were going to have to work overtime to match the grandeur of London’s big opening number. (Don’t even get us started on Beijing in 2008.)
As Friday’s Today on NBC took pains to point out — and ceremony director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) has said himself — Friday’s ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro had merely a fraction of the budget of previous Olympics starts. But the lack of costly gimmicks didn’t seem like such a big deal when you had Brazilian native and supermodel Gisele Bündchen runway-walking into Maracana Stadium, part of a dance party of thousands.
A good part of NBC’s coverage, anchored by Today‘s Matt Lauer, Hoda Kotb and Meredith Viera and sportscaster Bob Costas, focused on the Parade of Nations — aka the time when most of the athletes march into the stadium, waving their nations’ flags. Yes, most-decorated-athlete-in-Olympics-history Michael Phelps was flag bearer for the United States, and that’s cool, but you’d have to be made of stone not to appreciate the tenacity of the first Refugee Team — made up entirely of athletes who have fled oppressive regimes at great risk to themselves — which proudly marched in under the Olympic flag just ahead of Brazil.
Other highlights and/or weird-but-fun moments included: Lion King-style puppetry, the ceremony’s surprisingly political segment on global warming… and did we mention Bündchen already? Either way, she begs repeating.
Click through the gallery below to see the best (and most bizarre) moments from the Rio games’ opener, then hit the comments with your thoughts!
*Yes, we’re aware they were stunt doubles. Just roll with it.