In a program punctuated by traditional regional motifs, deafening fireworks, lively musical acts and the clever coordinated use of colored flashlights by the audience, the Pan American Games got off to a stunning start with a pulsating opening ceremony at the Omnilife Stadium.
One of the high points was when Mexican Olympic diving medallist Paola Espinosa descended on wires to light a cauldron that sent fireballs shooting skyward toward the roof of the stadium for the dramatic lighting of the Pan American torch.
"I congratulate organizers. That was worthy of an Olympic Games," former Jalisco Governor Alberto Cardenas said after the ceremony.
Threatening clouds hanging over the stadium a few hours before the start of the ceremony quickly dissipated once the two-hour celebration began on time at 8 p.m.
The ceremony was broadcast to an estimated 300 million television viewers across the region, organizers said.
Dressed in gleaming charro (equestrian) uniforms with huge white sombreros, the Mexican delegation of athletes – by far the largest of the 42 participating nat – predictably received the loudest ovation from an excitable crowd of 48,000.
Athletes of other nations, in particular Cuba, Brazil and Canada, also garnered huge cheers and applause. The crowd's greeting for the United States delegation was more subdued but nonetheless warm.
Ranchero singer Vicente Fernandez set the ceremony rolling by singing the Mexican national anthem, although at one embarrassing point he managed to mix up the words. He followed up with the classic tune "Mexico Lindo y Querido" and a rendition of "Guadalajara Guadalajara" that nearly brought down the house.
Other performers included local rock group Mana, Eugenia Leon and Juanes from Colombia.
Apart from the entrance of the Mexican delegation, the most emotional part of the ceremony was a sequence in which audience members manipulated their flashlights in synch to music while an acrobatic show unfolded on the central, circular stage.
The group of famous Mexican sports stars who carried the Pan American flag into the stadium surprisingly included former Miss Universe Ximena Navarette, a Guadalajara native. The remainder comprised golfer Lorena Ochoa and boxer Saul "Canelo" Jimenez, as well as Mexican Olympic medallists Fernando Platas (diving), Iridia Salazar (taekwondo), Soraya Jimenez (weightlifting), Ernesto Cantu and Daniel Bautista (walking).
Enriquetta Basilio, who lit the torch at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, carried the torch into the stadium to hand it over to other well-known Mexican athletes, including Alberto Valdes, silver and bronze medallist in equestrian events at the London Olympics of 1948, and Maria del Rosario Espinoza, taekwnodo Olympic gold medallist in Beijing 2008.
While Mexican President Felipe Calderon received cheers just before he officially opened the games, Jalisco Governor Emilio Gonzalez was greeted with light applause and a few boos and whistles.
Projected images of works by famed Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Jose Clemente Orozco added a cultural touch to the ceremony.
Around 10 p.m., popular singer Alejandro Fernandez interpreted the games' theme song "El Mismo Sol" (The Same Sun), which proved to be the last act of the ceremony along with the firework finale.