For over 120 years, the Olympic Games have produced thousands of stories of triumph against the odds. This 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, the first such story is the fact that it opened at all. Plagued by disturbing news, many harbored misgivings. Fortunately, the opening ceremony blew the doubts away. Here are five highlights that made confidence soar.

Seeds for the Future

Seeds for the Future

Seeds for the Future

Burdened with a shoestring budget compared with previous Olympic opening extravaganzas, Rio exchanged spectacle with meaning by carrying an advocacy close to their heart: the environment. 60 percent of Brazil is covered in rainforests. Mankind’s largest garden provides homes for 56 thousand species of plants and 3,624 species of animals, as well as thousands of indigenous people. The ceremony began with a warning of the impact of global warming and athletes were given seeds of trees with soil to create a tree preserve in a Rio park.

Strutting Their Stuff

Strutting Their Stuff

Strutting Their Stuff

Brazil is known for the beauty of its forests and its people. An opening ceremony carnival with Gisele Bundchen and the country’s stars placed the spotlight back on Brazil’s people and its vibrant culture as the supermodel cheered on the crowd to dance. 

Rising Above the Heights

Rising Above the Heights

Rising Above the Heights

As a member of BRICS, Brazil is an emerging national economy, which has witnessed amazing changes in its skyline. On the stage, high rises sprang up as teams of jumpers leaped from rooftop to rooftop. 

Peoples Fighting for Olympic Ideals

Peoples Fighting for Olympic Ideals

Peoples Fighting for Olympic Ideals

Excellence, friendship, and respect are the three Olympic values at the heart of the games. And while excellence is always pursued, friendship and respect are sometime ignored by nations. This is a sad fact that refugees all over the world know well. The appearance of the Olympic Refugee Team—athletes from South Sudan, Syria, the Congo, and Ethiopia—drew well-deserved applause.

The Lighting of the Olympic Flame

The Lighting of the Olympic Flame

The Lighting of the Olympic Flame

Few things have more meaning during the opening ceremony than the lighting of the flame. The torch symbolizes the humanity’s greatest gift, the divine fire, as well as the goodwill and harmony that distinguish the Olympic Spirit. 

In Rio, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima had the honor of bringing the torch to its final place. He was a marathon runner whose sportsmanship was unmatched in the 2004 games in Athens, when not even an intruder who grappled him as he was leading the race could defeat his spirit. In front of millions of people, de Lima lit the Olympic flame to a stunning, mesmerizing effect.

What other highlights struck you in the Olympic opening ceremony? Share with us in the comments below.