In the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, many people believed Brazilian soccer legend Pelé would light the Olympic cauldron to officially kick off the competition at the opening ceremonies. It’s an honor typically bestowed on a sporting hero of the host country, and Brazil arguably has no greater living sports figure than Pelé.
But when the star confirmed today (Aug. 5) that his health would prevent him from doing the job, the world was left wondering who might take his place. Now we have our answer: Olympic marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima.
By all accounts, de Lima was a deserving choice. The distance runner is perhaps best known for his performance at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when he delivered an incredible and surprising performance despite the actions of a drunken spectator.
During the marathon that year, de Lima wasn’t even expected to medal. His personal best time was minutes slower than the favorite in the race, Paul Tergat of Kenya. Yet four miles from the end of the 26.2-mile ordeal, he was leading. De Lima’s quest for gold was derailed, however, when a man wearing a kilt collided with him and pushed him to the side of the road. The protester was a defrocked priest named Neil Horan who police said had been drinking. Horan, who had disrupted the British Grand Prix the year before, also reportedly wore a placard bearing the words, ”The Grand Prix priest. Israel fulfillment of prophecy says the bible, the second coming is near.”
Following the disruption de Lima fell to third place. Even so, he did a victory dance as he crossed the finish line with a smile, earning him the respect and admiration of the international audience. While de Lima took home the bronze medal rather than gold, he was ultimately awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship.
De Lima may not have the name recognition of Pelé, but he’s still a wonderful ambassador for Brazil and a worthy choice to light the cauldron.