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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.

Posted on August 6, 2016, at 11:42 a.m. ET

After soccer legend PelΓ© 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.

Odd Andersen / AFP / Getty Images

De Lima, a distance runner, is best known for winning the bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics despite being tackled by a protester.

Koji Sasahara / AP

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.

De Lima lost several seconds before a local in the crowd helped pull Horan off him, but the damage was done.

Koji Sasahara / AP

But de Lima remained unfazed. He finished the race third, with a smile, and celebrated his victory joyously.

Diether Endlicher / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Diether Endlicher / AP Photo

"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 β€” an honor rarely bestowed in the Olympics β€” for β€œexceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values.”

Roberto Schmidt / AFP / Getty Images

De Lima also honored Polyvios Kossivas, the Greek man who pulled the defrocked priest off him and helped the athlete finish the race.

Siliva Izquierdo / ASSOCIATED PRESS

From heartbreak in 2004 to Olympic glory in 2016, De Lima has been a true sportsman in every sense of the word.

Ezra Shaw / Getty Images