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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Tens of thousands of Rio's samba-loving residents poured onto Copacabana Beach, where they danced into the evening in flip-flops and green-and-yellow bikinis to celebrate their city's selection as the site of the 2016 Olympics.

There was pride and the feeling that something powerful had just happened to the country. The International Olympic Committee's decision to entrust the games to Brazil - the first South American nation to host the games - confirmed this country's arrival onto the world stage with a defining moment that to many here promised even greater prosperity in the decade to come.

The decision was also a seminal achievement for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a former auto plant worker with a fourth-grade education who has helped make Brazil the economic and political leader of South America.

"Brazil went from a second-class country to a first-class country, and today we began to receive the respect we deserve," da Silva said from Copenhagen, Denmark, after the vote on Friday, pulling out a handkerchief several times to dab cheeks wet with tears. "I could die now, and it already would have been worth it."

The Olympic glow seemed to reinforce the perception that da Silva was born under the luckiest of stars.

Brazil rode a commodity and consumer-spending boom the past half-decade as the government tamed inflation, expanded the economy and narrowed a wide inequality gap. In just the past two years, Brazil has discovered huge troves of deep-sea oil.

With the soccer World Cup coming to Brazil in 2014 - the final match is to be played at Rio's Maracana stadium - the country is set to be a showcase for two of the world's greatest sporting events.

When he was elected in 2002, da Silva's background as a union leader and a leftist unnerved international financial markets and the Bush administration. But he adopted a pragmatic approach that calmed foreign investors and solidified Brazil's economy. His charisma and popularity, both in and out of his country, helped him eclipse Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as the region's most influential leader.

"The Olympics are a crowning achievement in the efforts that Brazil has made to participate actively in world affairs," said Amaury de Souza, a political analyst in Rio.

For da Silva, the Olympics have been part of an "obsession" with being remembered as a great president, de Souza said, of da Silva's overcoming his humble beginnings.