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Here's The Inspiring Story Behind The Man Who Lit The Rio Olympic Flame

Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athen Olympics despite being tackled by a protester.

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After soccer legend Pelé backed out of lighting the Olympic flame due to poor health, Brazil chose an unlikely hero, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, to ignite the cauldron at the opening ceremony Friday.

De Lima was leading late in the run, but his shot at gold was derailed when an Irish priest, Cornelius Horan, grabbed the runner and knocked him into the crowd.

Horan had a history of disrupting sporting events, including the British Grand Prix, to promote his theory that the world would come to an end.

Police said he had been drinking when he interrupted the marathon. He was later defrocked by the Roman Catholic church and handed a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine by a Greek court.

"If it were not for that lunatic, I am sure I would have won the gold," he said. "For the way I was running, I was unstoppable."

Besides winning the bronze, de Lima was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal — an honor rarely bestowed in the Olympics — for “exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values.”

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at

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