With Brazilian soccer legend Pele ruled out for health reasons, there remained plenty of suspense heading into Friday’s Opening Ceremony at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. In the end another Brazilian legend, one who displayed incredible sportsmanship in a stunning Olympic moment in Athens 12 years ago, was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron.
Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima was the choice to light the cauldron, making the trek up the steps at the Maracanã after receiving the flame from Brazilian basketball legend Hortencia Marcari. Brazilian tennis great Gustavo Kuerten ran the flame into the stadium, with Hortencia being second in the three-person relay to the cauldron.
Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima was on the verge of winning the gold medal in the Olympic marathon in Athens 12 years ago, only to be attacked by a protester and pushed to the side of the road four miles from the finish line. Instead of closing out the race with a gold medal de Lima had to settle for bronze, and occurrence that would have left many athletes fumning (and rightfully so). But de Lima handled the disruption with a level of class that impressed many, resulting in the International Olympic Committee giving him the Baron Pierre de Coubertin Award.
That grace ultimately opened the door for de Lima to receive the honor of a lifetime Friday night, as his lighting of the Olympic cauldron represents the beginning of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.