If you were up at 4:30 this morning, you might have been wondering what in the world was going on. Opening ceremonies are, without exception, exercises in pointlessness, much like icing without a cake. What the Olympics Games opening ceremonies give us, though, is a little glimpse into life in the host nation. Beijing 2008 was overwhelming just because of its sheer scale. London 2012 was a muscular pantomime showcasing a multicultural society in a state of active deterioration. Rio 2016 added its chapter to the story by putting on a display that was (mercifully) short, messy and rough around the edges. It has taken eight years and two disgraced presidents to put together the Games in Rio. Many in the city will say the Games are for the rest of us and not for the locals at all. The state of Rio de Janeiro is a shambles; services are falling apart and the new austerity government under Michel Temer has a long way to go before it receives any sort of public acceptance. That Temer was roundly booed when he stepped up to declare the games "open" while the Russian contingent was ignored, indicates the mood of the Cariocas. At least those who found a ticket to enter the Maracana. For the poor masses of the city, such as those living in the Mangueira favela that overlooks the stadium, the Games might as well be happening on another planet. And then there was the ultimate irony of them all—the Olympic Games, sport's most unsustainable extravaganza, preaching sustainability to an audience just trying to survive.
Rio did what it was expected to this morning, just like it did two years ago when the World Cup came calling. The city is constantly churning, almost at war, thanks to decades of compounding economic disparity. Yet no city comes out to party quite like Rio does. Though the world might be crumbling at the edges, Cariocas always turn up asking where the party's at. Last night's spectacle, a pageant of funk, forests and favelas, was a celebration of that exact spirit. And its end heralded another basic human trait—the urge to compete. So, here are 10 things we can look forward to from Rio 2016, now that the inanity of the opening ceremony is over and done with.
The Refugee team
This is a team that should not exist. It is at once a symbol of international unity and cooperation and the failure of the international community to resolve global crises. #TeamRefugee has 10 members, from five countries, now living in five other countries. They represent 19 million refugees and asylum-seekers globally, a figure that has gone up from 11 million when London hosted the Games in 2012. Team Refugee received the loudest cheers when they marched into the Maracana. But it is not cheers they are looking for. They just want the world to sort out their countries so, one day, they can go back home. Among the 10 are some experienced international athletes and their progress will give the Games some inspirational stories.
The pistol shooter is India's strongest medal contender. Over the past two years, Rai, a junior commissioned officer with the Gorkha regiment of the Indian Army, has won gold in the 50m pistol event at both the Commonwealth and Asian Games and has performed consistently on the ISSF circuit. Rai knows where he stands in world shooting and that the nation is expecting a medal-winning performance from him. He has dealt with these expectations with steely nerves so far. Watching him win that olympic medal for India will be a highlight of Rio 2016.
USA women's gymnastics team
The packed hall at the Indira Gandhi indoor stadium during the 2010 Commonwealth Games was an indication of how much Indians enjoy artistic gymnastics. And why not? The sport has power, precision, grace and gravity-defying human movement. In 2012, Gabby Douglas became the first black woman to win the individual all-round gold. The US also bagged the team gold. In Rio, Simone Biles will be Douglas' main competition for the individual crown and the team is odds-on favourite to take top spot. The squad, with its mix of black, white and hispanic athletes, has become a bit of a symbol for race relations in America. But it's their feats in the gymnastics hall that will blow your socks off.
Usain Bolt at his final Olympic Games
When Bolt does decide to call it quits, the future of international competitive athletics will be in jeopardy. But, all that is for later. First we will have another opportunity to watch him decimate all comers in the showpiece event of the Games, the men's 100m final. Can Bolt take another few fractions of a second off his already ridiculous world record? Given his record, we certainly think so.
The Underdog Stories
Every Games has its heroes. Some achieve that status through extraordinary feats in their disciplines. Other do it simply by competing. Whether it is 13-year-old Nepalese swimmer Gaurika Singh or Syrian refugees Rami Anis and Yusra Mardini, Rio will add to Olympic folklore. Watch these subplots closely for some feel-good news from the Games.
The football tournament
The much-maligned Olympic football tournament got underway two days before the Games officially began. Many football experts are of the opinion that the sport should not be a part of the Games at all. However, both the men's and women's competition has produced some really high-quality football and tremendous entertainment in the recent past. Mexico's 2—1 win over Brazil in the final at Wembley in 2012 was arguably the most exciting international final in a long time. It remains the only title Brazil have not won. The hosts want nothing more than to set that record straight and sooth some of the wounds from the last World Cup. Since it is an under-23 tournament, its also worth a watch because of the young talent on display.
Putting tennis in the same bucket as golf is a completely unfair assessment that several commentators have made in the run up to the Games. Four years ago, local hero Andy Murray beat Roger Federer to gold on the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Rio doesn't boast a similarly iconic tennis venue, but the competition will be hot. Unlike golf, all the top players are at the Games and the competition has all the ingredients of a Grand Slam. India's recent strength in doubles play means tennis is also high on the list of medal possibilities. Definitely an event to keep an eye on.
Records in the pool
No fewer that 25 Olympic and world records were broken by the men and women in the pool in London. 950 competitors will take their marks in Rio, hoping to join that illustrious list. Like the Olympic stadium, the aquatics centre is one of the hotspots in the Olympic village because of the fierce competition and constant record-breaking. The sport is perfect for television and the competitors are a visual delight. Watch out for Michael Phelps as he attempts to add to his tally of 22 Olympic medals and for the Australian team that will look to erase memories of a disappointing show in London.
Hookups of Olympian proportions
The athletes' village is, among other things, a non-stop party spot. When athletes finish competing, it will be the first time many of them will have let their hair down in at least a couple of years. The relief from the relentless cycle of training and competition, the party atmosphere, free condoms and the presence of hundreds of prime physical specimens lead to hookups by the bucket. Keep an eye on the gossip pages for your dose of olympic masala.
From September 7 to 18, the world's best disabled athletes will get a chance to share some of the spotlight. Everything about the Paralympics is remarkable. Every story is a triumph of human endeavour against the odds. 175 nations will send athletes to Rio for the competition. Seven Indians will be part of the celebration, as they compete with the best in athletics, powerlifting and shooting. In 2012, Girisha Nagarajegowda won India's only medal at the Paralympics—a high jump silver. Whether the team can better that or not, they're winners all the same.