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Torch begins final race to stadium from beneath Rio's Christ

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Rio Olympics Opening Ceremony Will Pay Tribute To Brazil Environment

The Olympic torch was raised before Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue on Friday on the final leg of its journey to the opening ceremony of the Olympics, as Brazil excitedly put the final touches to seven years of preparations.

At the evening ceremony in the famed Maracana soccer stadium, Brazil will declare open the 31st summer Olympic Games, the first to be held in South America. They run until Aug. 21.

SEE MORE: Everything you need to know about the Summer Olympics

Organizers hope the start of the Games will turn the page on months of bad publicity for Rio, from polluted water to faulty plumbing at the athletes' village and worries about the Zika virus. Having won the Olympics in 2009 during an economic boom, Brazil since slipped into its worst recession in decades.

Former Brazilian women's volleyball player, Maria Isabel Barroso Salgado, lifted the flame beneath the outstretched arms of the giant statue of Christ that overlooks Rio's Guanabara bay.

"May this be the moment for us to overcome difficult times and to work as a team, to make our country and our world fairer and safer, full of hope and joy," said Rio's Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta, flanked by Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes.

The torches' 95-day, 20,000-km journey across Brazil ran into difficulties this week as protests flared in poor towns around Rio against the $12 billion price tag of the Games, at a time when residents are suffering from high unemployment, rising crime and cutbacks to health and education spending.

Scenes of riot police using stun grenades and tear gas to clear protesters from the torch's path on Wednesday fueled complaints that the Games had ignored the city's poor.


Great moments from the Summer Olympics
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Great moments from the Summer Olympics
Mary Lou Retton at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 1, 1984. (AP Photo)
Mildred Didrikson of Dallas, Texas at the Olympic Stadium Los Angeles July 31, 1932 when she sent the javelin soaring 143 feet 4 inches to better by more than 11 feet the former mark held by E. Braumiller of Germany. (AP Photo)
Babe Didrikson, second from right, leads her USA teammate, Evelyne Hall, right, over the last hurdle to win the women's 80-meter hurdles at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, August 4, 1932. Didrikson's time of 11.7 seconds set a world and Olympic record. (AP Photo)
Alice Coachman of Tuskegee about to snap the tape to win the 100 meter run in the Woman's National AAU Track and Field championships, Aug. 5, 1946. Coming up a close second, left, is Stella Walsh, running for the Polish-Olympic WAC, Cleveland. (AP Photo)
High jumper Dick Fosbury of the United States is shown in October 1968, debuting his celebrated "Fosbury Flop," during the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. "The Flop" revolutionized high jumping, and Fosbury went on to win the gold medal with a leap of 7 feet and 4 and 1/4 inches. (AP Photo)
Bob Beamon astonished the world in October1968 when he leaped 29 feet 2-1/2 in., about two feet more than the existing long jump record, to capture a gold medal in the Olympic Games in Mexico City.(AP PHOTO)
Bob Beamon of El Paso, Texas digs his feet into the sand pit after a record-shattering long jump of 8.90 meters on his first attempt in the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, Friday Oct. 18, 1968. (AP PHOTO)
Bob Beamon is shown in his record-breaking long jump that won him a gold medal on October 18, 1968 during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. (AP Photo)
Heavyweight boxer George Foreman is seen during his bout with Russia's Iones Chepulis during their Olympic finals in Mexico City, Oct. 27, 1968. Foreman captured the gold medal. (AP Photo)
American heavyweight boxer George Foreman of Pleasanton, California, waves an American flag after winning the Olympic gold medal at the Mexico City games on Oct. 27, 1968. Foreman won by a technical knockout in the second round against Iones Chepulis of Russia. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf)
Winners of the heavyweight division of Olympic boxing, (from left to right) silver medalist Ionas Chepulis of Russia, American gold medalist George Foreman, and joint bronze medalists, Giorgio Bambini of Italy and Joaquin Rocha of Mexico are seen in the ring after medal presentations, October 27, 1968 at the Olympic Games in Mexico City. (AP Photo)
Ulrike Meyfarth, 16, of West Germany goes over the bar at 1.92 meters to win the world record and win a gold medal in the 1972 Olympic Games women's high jump event at the Munich Olympic Stadium, Sept. 4, 1972. (AP Photo)
Smiling happily is Ulrike Meyfarth, 16, of West Germany after winning the gold medal in the high jump for women in the 1972 Munich Olympics. She jumped 1.92 metres, setting a new Olympic record. (AP Photo)
Nadia Comaneci from Romania performs an excellent balanced jump on the horse vault during compulsory events and optional exercises, July 18,1976 in Montreal at the Summer Olympic Games. (AP Photo)
Romania's top gymnast Nadia Comaneci performs on the balance beam on July 18, 1976 during the Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Canada. (AP Photo)
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, 14, performs a flip on the balance beam en route to a gold medal in the event during the Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on July 22, 1976. (AP Photo/Stephanie Maze)
Romania's Nadia Comaneci, 14, performs her part of the balance beam routine Thursday July 23, 1976 in Olympic competition in Montreal. This multiple exposure study points out the grace of her movements, leading to a gold medal and a perfect score in the event. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
Sugar Ray Leonard in action against Ulrich Beyer July 27,1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Leonard later won the Gold Medal in the light Welterweight class (140 lbs). (AP Photo)
American boxer Sugar Ray Leonard raises his arms in victory after defeating Ulrich Beyer of East Germany to qualify for the final bout, at the XXI Summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, on July 27, 1976. (AP Photo)
Sugar Ray Leonard of Palmer Park, Md., right, throws a right at Kazmier Szczerba of Poland during the light welterweight boxing match at the XXI Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on July 29, 1976. Leonard won the match. (AP Photo)
Soviet world champion gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin swings up during his performance on the horizontal bars that earned him a 9.95 score during men's team gymnastics event Thursday, July 24, 1980 at the Moscow Olympics. The Soviet, 22, became the first man ever to score a perfect ten for the vault and won the gold medal in the all-around category of the event. (AP Photo)
Alexander Dityatin of USSR performs on the rings during the apparatus final of the Olympics, July 25, 1980 in Moscow. He took the gold medal with a score of 19.875. (AP Photo/Maze)
Joan Benoit shown running at the Olympic women's marathon in Los Angeles. She won the gold medal. (AP Photo/Ron Heflin)
Freeport, Maine's Joan Benoit, carries an American flag after finishing the first-ever women's marathon in the 1984 Summer Games August 5, 1984 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The 27-year-old Benoit finished the 26-mile, 385-yard distance in 2.24:52. (AP Photo/Sadayuki Mikami)
U.S. runner Joan Benoit of Freeport, Maine, waves the American flag on Aug 5, 1984 after her gold medal win in the women's marathon that concluded in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)
U.S. runner Joan Benoit of Freeport, Maine, waves the American flag on Aug 5, 1984 after her gold medal win in the women's marathon that concluded in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)
Romania's Ecaterina Szabo, who is a favorite for a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, is pictured at Stadtallendorf on July 5, 1984, during her team's gymnastic contest vs. West Germany. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf)
Romania's Ecaterina Szabo, is shown July 30, 1984 during balance beam where she finished second to teamate Simona Pakea at the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles. (AP Photo)
Mary Lou Retton of team USA is shown during her perfect performance in the floor exercise in the Olympic individual all-around finals in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 3, 1984 during the Summer Olympics. Retton edged out Ecaterina Szabo of Romania for the gold medal. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
Mary Lou Retton of Fairmount, Va. leaps in the air after scoring a perfect 10 on the vault in her final routine to win the women's all-around gymnastics gold medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Friday, Aug. 4, 1984. (AP Photo)
Mary Lou Retton, foreground, with her gold medal and Ecaterina Szabo with her silver medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 5, 1984. (AP Photo)
Mary Lou Retton celebrates her balance beam score at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles on Aug. 3, 1984. Retton, 16, became the first American woman ever to win an individual Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton on the uneven bars at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 5, 1984. (AP Photo)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton celebrates after a victory at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug.12, 1984. (AP Poto)
Mary Lou Retton of the USA beams after winning the gold medal in Olympics individual all-around gymnastics competition Aug. 3, 1984. (AP Photo)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton celebrates after a victory at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug.12, 1984. (AP Poto)
Mary Lou Retton, of the U.S.A., performs on the balance beam during the women's gymnastics individual all-around finals at the XXIII Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 3, 1984. (AP Photo/Suzanne Vlamis)
American gymnast Mary Lou Retton during her balance beam routine at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif., Aug. 3, 1984. (AP Photo)
USA's Michael Jordan sails high above teammate Magic Johnson knocking away a shot during the first half of their preliminary round basketball game with Croatia at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona Monday, July 27, 1992. (AP Photo/Susan Ragan)
The USA's Magic Johnson drives the court against Croatia's Drazen Petrovic during the First half of their preliminary round basketball game at the XXV Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Monday, July 27, 1992. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

Rio will seek to put that behind it on Friday when fireworks light up the night sky above the Maracana. Some 50,000 spectators are expected, with some 3 billion people tuning in around the world as Brazil lifts the curtain on its second major sporting event in two years, after the 2014 soccer World Cup.

Security challenges in the sprawling beachside city are at the forefront of many people's minds, not only because of Rio's decades-old reputation for violent street crime, but also due to a spate of deadly attacks at big and small celebrations from Europe to the United States.

With many of the Games' 11,000 athletes and dozens of heads of state in attendance, it will be the first major test of Rio's preparedness.

"The security has been improved a lot, the security around here and in front of the stadium," said local resident Helder Leao, 56.

Brazil has deployed some 85,000 police and troops, roughly twice the number at London's 2012 Olympics, to protect locals and the half million tourists expected to visit the city.

Rio has consistently pulled off massive events with few security hiccups, including Carnival, the 2014 World Cup final and one of the world's biggest New Year's Eve bashes.

Brazil's political crisis could crash the party as interim President Michel Temer opens the Games. In a bitterly divided country, protesters are encouraging spectators to boo Temer, who took over after the Senate voted to subject leftist President Dilma Rousseff to an impeachment hearing this month. The leftist leader is expected to be dismissed from office.

In a statement released on Friday, Temer appealed to his countrymen to make the Olympics a moment of "international unity and national reconciliation".

In what organizers have called a low-tech ceremony constrained by the dire economy, Brazil will showcase its natural treasures and the cultural riches created by one of the world's most diverse nations.

Samba, Carnival and the famously fun Brazilian spirit are expected to play heavily into the three-hour ceremony, as will a call to save the planet from climate change.

One of the most anticipated moments will be seeing which famous Brazilian will light the Olympic cauldron. The odds-on favorite is soccer legend Pele.

Will Rio Benefit from Olympics Legacy?

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