Saturday, August 6, 2016

FLASHBACK: When a Catholic Ex-Priest Assaulted the Marathon Leader

Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima is attacked at the 22 mile mark of the Olympic Marathon 
The Olympic Marathon is traditionally not run on a track but on public streets. Consequently, through there are fences, barriers, race officials and police all along the course, it is impossible to fully protect the runners from people who for one reason or another might wish to interfere with the race.

Luckily, in recent times at least, there has never been a case where anyone in the crowd bothered any of the leading runners.

With one exception.

In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, at a bit after the 22 mile mark of the 26.2 mile race, a man came seemingly out of nowhere, grabbed the lead runner, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, and pushed him into the crowd. De Lima appeared to recover a few seconds later, emerging from the scuffle and resuming his run with an exasperated shrug.

However, he was subsequently passed by two other runners and ended up coming in third.

The man was an Irish Catholic ex-priest.

Indeed, Neil Horan had previously intruded on another sporting event, running out onto the track of the Formula One British Grand Prix - not only risking his own life but threatening the lives of the drivers.

Obviously, blocking runners is safer than blocking race cars.

With all the recent controversy about the term "mentally ill," I think it's safe to say that Horan satisfies the bill.

He's initiated all sorts of weird public stunts - often wearing the bizarre costume seen in the photographs above and below - and currently has a Twitter account where he praised the Nice truck terrorist as helping to usher in the Second Coming.

Neil Horan
De Lima had a strong running career but never was very competitive after 2004. This was probably due to his age - he was 35 at Athens.

My own feeling, and I think the common consensus, is that de Lima would have been passed anyway had the assault never happened. He was losing steam and the chasers were gaining. I suspect de Lima knew this as much as anyone. But of course we will never know.

For gracefully putting up with his experience, De Lima was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for the True Spirit of Sportsmanship at the close of the Games. As far as I know, he never expressed any bitterness over what happened.

Indeed, at the end of the fateful race, his expression conveyed nothing but happiness. As he was running the final stadium lap for the Bronze, de Lima extended his arms as if he were flying. At the finish line he traced a heart in the air with his hands. The crowd returned his joy.

Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima
Fittingly, for the current 2016 Games in his home country, he was given the honor of lighting the Olympic flame.

Thousands of men and women have won Olympic medals. Fewer than thirty have lit that flame.

I would have given much to have had a running career like de Lima's. May the remainder of his life be restful and happy, like his smile.

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