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SIDEBAR De Lima gets his golden Olympic moment by lighting Rio cauldron

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Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei Cordeiro De Lima had his golden Olympic moment at last on Friday, after being denied it in the cruelest of fashions during the Athens 2004 race.

De Lima, 46, lit the Olympic cauldron of the Rio Games as the last torchbearer amid huge cheers from the crowd in the packed Maracana Stadium and with billions watching on television around the world.

De Lima was also in the global spotlight in Athens, when on the closing day he seemed headed for a famous victory on the course from Marathon to Athens, ahead some 25 seconds at the 35-kilometre mark.

But De Lima was then attacked by notorious Irish priest Cornelius Horan, who jumped onto the course and pushed De Lima off the track.

The incident with Horan, who had a year earlier run onto the track during the British Formula One race in Silverstone, cost De Lima precious seconds and his rhythm. He eventually had to settle for bronze behind Italian winner Stefano Baldini and American Mebrahtom Kelezighi.

The Brazilian athletics team appealed in vain for De Lima to get a gold medal, but he received the Pierre de Coubertin medal from the International Olympic Committee at the closing ceremony for the way he handled the situation.

De Lima was always considered a candidate to light the Rio cauldron and his chances appeared even better once football icon Pele said early Friday that he would not attend the opening ceremony owing to health problems.

And once three-time French Open champion and former world number one tennis player Gustavo Kuerten brought the torch into the Maracana, it was all but obvious that De Lima would have his moment of immortality.

A visibly emotional Kuerten passed the torch to basketball great Hortencia Marcari, who ran the penultimate leg before handing over to De Lima who went up the steps and lit the cauldron.

By doing so he joined sporting greats such as the late boxing icon Muhammad Ali and Australian runner Cathy Freeman, who lit the Olympic fire in 1996 in Atlanta and in 2000 in Sydney respectively.



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