But let's get real: one of the best parts of any Opening Ceremony is checking out the athlete's outfits during the parade of nations.
This year, the vast majority of outfits fell into one of three distinct categories: blazers, track suits, and ethnic (or ethnic-inspired) garb. Below are some of the best and worst in each category.
The blazers varied somewhat in style, and were paired with pants, skirts, shorts, and dresses; some with hats and some without; some classic and some a bit more contemporary or trendy. Some ended up looking cute and crisp, others bland and boring, and still others were reminiscent of yachters or flight attendants or ice cream vendors. Whose blazers blazed and whose just fizzled?
Aruba's turquoise jackets were paired with crisp white pants or short skirts and white shoes, and featured a white patterned stripe down the right side and a small white crest on the left. They were paired with cute white hats with coordinated turquoise hatbands. The outfits were attractive, well-tailored, and flattering to the athletes. Thumbs up!
Australia paired a green and white striped jacket with dark green piping and white collared shirts with white Bermuda shorts for the men and short wrap skirts for the ladies. The women wore a green and gold print scarf that was pretty and tied in to the color scheme nicely; the men wore gold ties with green stripes that were not and did not. It wasn't a horrible look, but a simple change of tie would have done a world of good. The sockless white oxfords were a cute touch, though.
The Czech Republic wore striped black and white jackets with narrow lapels and red piping on the pockets. They could have worked well except that many of them seemed to be poorly fitted and too short for the athletes, both sleeves and overall length. Some of the pants also seemed to be poorly fitted to the point of looking uncomfortable. The print T-shirts worn under the jackets also looked odd, as some of the print could be seen at the neck, and the bottom of the tees were visible under the too-short jackets. Great concept, less than ideal execution.
France's blazers looked more like overshirts than actual jackets, with shirt-style collars and zip fronts. The cuffs were noticeably short and the overall length was much longer than a standard blazer. I did like the "dashed" white piping along the front and the white polos and pants, but I felt like it needed a hat of some kind to complete the look.
Poland was another case of good concept but poor execution. The blue-gray jackets with flap pockets and super-high lapels weren't bad, just a bit short, especially in arm length. The white undershirts looked too casual but the red pants were great.
Puerto Rico, on the other hand, was a decent execution of a lousy concept. The combination of fire engine red pants and skirts, red-and-white striped shirts for men and inserts in the voluminous tops for women, and bold blue and red shoulder patches and jacket hems were just too much. Take half the fabric out of the women's tops so they were fitted halters, lose the red stripes altogether in both outfits, and this look would have been vastly improved. The hats were great, at least.
Russia's navy jackets with white trim and a gold crest were beautifully tailored and looked great, especially when worn with a white dress shirt and dark red bow tie, as some of the coaches did, and even worked with the red-and-white striped jerseys on the women. But the casual undershirts on most of the male athletes did not pair well with the jackets, and the baggy white pants and voluminous pleated skirts looked juvenile and messy, especially worn with tennis shoes.
South Korea wore the more successful version of the Russian garb. Nicely tailored navy jackets with narrow white piping and a tastefully-sized flag insignia, light blue dress shirts with white collars and long ties, white pants that seemed to have the option of slim-fit or a looser version (an excellent choice!), classy navy canvas slip-ons, and all-white hats created a casual elegance that suited the occasion perfectly. Big thumbs up to this team.
Worst look in this category: Puerto Rico, for having too much going on all at once.
Best look in this category: South Korea, for finding the perfect balance of casual and classy.
The more casual look of track suits has become popular over the past few Olympics. Some of the designers attempted to add interest with colors or details, but on the whole, the track suits looked boring and sloppy.
Croatia drew some criticism for their red-and-white checkered jackets, which did remind me of the Ralston-Purina logo. However, I found it more interesting than many of the solid-colored track suits, and I liked the casual windbreaker-style jacket paired with regular pants rather than nylon running pants, which moved the look from sloppy to appropriately casual. Croatia gets a thumbs up from me.
Cyprus was one of the duller track suits, with bright blue suits highlighted with oddly placed orange stripes under the arms which made it look like they were carrying backpacks when their arms were down, and which bagged awkwardly when their arms were raised. I'm sure they were comfortable, but this look just feels too casual to me.
Egypt's red-and-white track suits (red pants for all; red jackets for men and white for women) were a little better than Cyprus', but still a bit bland. And many of the women's jackets seemed oversized. But if you're going to go with track suits, you could do worse than this look.
Ireland's track suits were a nice color combination of cobalt blue with bright green sleeves, but the skinny fit of the pants were out of proportion with the rest of the outfit.
Similar to Croatia, Norway opted for a running jacket, but paired it with white shorts and a cute polo, topped with baseball hats. It struck a nice balance between casual and tailored, but the print was dizzyingly busy when the jackets were zipped up.
Worst look in this category: Sweden. Because see above photo.
Best look in this category: Norway, because even though the jacket pattern was quite busy, the overall look was casual and flattering without looking sloppy or boring.
Many nations opt to have their flagbearer wear ethnic garb while their athletes wear more contemporary outfits, but there are always several nations whose entire contingent wears traditional or ethnic-inspired garb. These are often my favorites of the whole parade.
As many of the ethnic-inspired costumes do, Benin's outfits echoed the colors in their flag. These lovely yellow print tops with scalloped hems, dark green skirts or pants, and matching traditional headpieces were finished off with a broad red fringed scarf. A gorgeous combination of traditional and contemporary styles.
Burundi's outfits, on the other hand, were very traditional, with the men wearing a loose printed robe and an ivory shoulder wrap and carrying long spears, and the women wearing a brightly patterned drape over white tanks. I loved each look individually, but they didn't tie together well.
Cameroon's athletes wore stunning dashiki-style tunics and long skirts printed in bold gold and orange patterns on a chocolate-brown background, with matching traditional headpieces. Just breathtaking. Thumbs up for this look.
The Cook Islands wore ethnic-inspired dresses for the women and matching tunics with black pants for the men, and the women wore traditional floral coronets. The green print fabric was stunning and the outfits looked cool and flattering. I would buy that dress if I saw it in a store.
Indonesia: Oh, Indonesia. Hands down, the most gorgeous look of the entire parade. The men's white blazers were trimmed with red collars and cuffs and emblazoned with a traditional pattern in red that matched their headpieces, paired with red pants and tie. But the elaborate ethnic costumes worn by three of the marchers, with rich print fabrics and large golden or feathered headdresses were absolutely breathtaking.
The Senegalese women wore traditional garb consisting of a flared yellow blouse with green front panel and cuffs, a long yellow skirt, and yellow head wraps. The color was lovely against their dark skin, and flattering to all. An excellent choice, and a big thumbs up for this team.
White is always elegant, and the Sudanese contingent was no exception. The men wore traditional white robes with white turbans trimmed with ribbons in their national colors, and the woman wore a sari-style robe with the same trim all along its edge. The pure white was eye-catching and the trim added a patriotic touch as well as some visual interest.
Worst of this category: I hate to choose a loser here, because they really were all beautiful and meaningful, but I have to go with Burundi, simply because their male and female athletes didn't seem to belong to the same team, and isn't the whole point of the parade of athletes to show team unity?
Best of this category: Indonesia, because wow.
Defying a Category
Of course, there were some costumes worthy of note (for good or ill) that did not fit into any of the three categories above.
With only two countries in this category, it's pretty obvious that Germany is the worst and Hungary is the best.
I do love seeing all the teams together at the start of the games, full of potential and excitement and patriotism. I love the symbolism of their national and team unity as displayed in their team outfits. But I look forward even more to the end of the Games, when the pressure is off and the athletes run into the stadium in a giant clump, mixed together sport among sport, nation among nation, no longer concerned with national or team identity but simply athletes sharing together the joy of competition and personal achievement, and the unity is no longer among their teammates or their countrymen, but among all the citizens of the world who join together, on the field and off, to celebrate the glory of human endeavor.