Marathon man de Lima captures Olympic spirit
Few events in Athens attracted more attention than the marathon. The course followed the path of the original route used at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, starting in the town of Marathon and finishing in the Panathinaikos Stadium.
The first break away was led by South African runner Hendrick Ramaala, but he fell back into the pack, clearing the way for Brazil’s Vanderlei de Lima to take up the front running at the halfway point. De Lima gradually increased his lead, opening up a 25-second gap with 15km left. By the 30km mark his advantage was 47 seconds over Italy's Stefano Baldini, the world record holder Paul Tergat and the Eritrean-born Mebrahtom Keflezighi, who was competing for the USA.
That remained the sequence until the final 5km. As Tergat faded, Baldini accelerated towards the leader. As he did so, there was a sensation at the front as a spectator, dressed in a red kilt and a green beret, ran onto the course and shoved de Lima as he ran past. The Brazilian managed to stay on his feet and continued running, albeit visibly shaken.
It turned out that the offender, who was duly arrested, was the same person who had walked onto the track at the previous year's Formula One Grand Prix in Great Britain and he was subsequently fined, given a suspended prison sentence and banned from all future sporting events.
Still visibly shaken, de Lima was overtaken by Baldini and then by Keflezighi, but the Brazilian did hold on to take the bronze medal. Baldini took victory more than half a minute ahead of Keflezighi.
De Lima was subsequently awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal in recognition of his response to the situation, which had demonstrated “an exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values.