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I am a Bicolano by birth and choice. By any standards, I am a slow runner but I like it that way. I look at running as a healthy and exciting way to make a difference. Together with my fellow runners from our family, school, office and the community, we use running to give back..

November 21, 2011

The de Lima that Soared with the Olympic Spirit

Imagine this.  You are running in the Olympic marathon, leading by almost half a minute with 4 miles to go, on the way to winning the very first gold for your country in this event. 

Then, suddenly and without provocation, an onlooker charges you and tackles you to the side street.  This causes you to break  momentum and takes you off your otherwise relaxed, winning pace. Sad and tragic.

Amazing  but this actually happened.  Except that instead of a tragic ending, it became the inspiring highpoint of the 2004 Athens Olympics.  

Amazing and incredible for me, the runner at the center of this all is a man that I share the same  family name.

Smile of a True Olympian

Meet Vanderlie Cordeiro  de Lima of Brazil. 

Born in August 11, 1969 in Cruzeiro do Oeste, Parana, Brazil, this 5’5” runner showed the rest of the world on that fateful day more than 7 years ago what is a true Olympian.

But,  let us take a look first at Vanderlie’s  running career leading to the 2004 Olympics.  A career full of hard work and sacrifices.

He got engaged in athletics at the age of 14, courtesy of his Physical Education teacher who saw potential in him.  He began representing Brazil in international meets as  a cross country runner, scoring a bronze at the 1993 South American Cross Country Championships  (ultimately a gold in the same Championships by 1995.)

De Lima became  a marathon runner by accident and it is a case of the “rabbit” becoming a winner.  As he recounts it in the  IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federation) website,   “In the autumn of 1994, I took part of the Reims Marathon, where I was supposed  to be a rabbit up to the 21Km point.  In the middle of the race I felt so comfortable that I decided to keep going.  First to the 30Km mark, and then all the way to the end of the race, which I actually won in 2:11:06.”

After the “rabbit” got a taste of marathon winning, he became prolific at it, winning top 3 in some of the  more prestigious ones in the world, namely:

Tokyo Marathon (Feb. 8, 1998)                      -           2:08:31 (2nd place)
Rotterdam Marathon (April 16, 2000)            -           2:08:34 (3rd place)      
Tokyo Marathon (Feb. 12, 1996)                    -           2:08:38 (1st place)
Fukuoka Marathon (Dec. 5, 1999)                  -           2:08:40 (3rd place)
Hamburg Marathon ( April 18, 2004)              -           2:09:39 (1st place) 
Oita Marathon (Feb. 4, 2001)                         -           2:10:02 (2nd place)

But it is in the Olympic stage of Athens that de Lima will prove to be refreshingly extraordinary.  Although, his first 2 Olympic experiences ended up without glory as he finished 47th  (2:21:01 time) in the Atlanta games and went down under to 75th place (2:37:08) in the Sydney Games.  These inglorious finishes coupled with physical problems did not deter Vanderlie.  Watching his smile would suggest a stronger character than mere mortals.   

And on that  fateful and inspiring Olympic day of August 29, 2004, de Lima walked the smile.  And this time, I would be liberally quoting from the written work of S.L. Price from Sports Illustrated (and viewing the attached youtube video is highly advisable) :  
De Lima was leading at the race at the 23rd mile when he was attacked.  A defrocked Irish priest (Cornelius Horan) grabbed De Lima and shoved him into the crowd... Here was the danger most feared in Athens, the danger feared in all our lives now:  An attack, unprovoked and random and unrepentantly mean.  The Athen organizers had spent well over US$ 1 billion on security, but now security has failed; an athlete had been assaulted on the route where the marathon, where sports, had begun so long ago.  In a small way, it brought home today’s truth:  You can spend all you want, you can demand that authorities blanket the airports and malls with reassuring men in uniform.  But, in the end, if some bitter clown is willing to risk himself to do damage?  Some damage will get done.

Attack on Vanderlie
 With help, de Lima got himself free of his attacker.  He kept on running... He finished third, got himself a bronze danger (with a time of 2:12:11).  That seemed right, nice even.  And had that been the end of it, de Lima would’ve faded into memory, just another victim of something he couldn’t understand.
But de Lima did something more.  He was in the middle of the race, remember, so no P.R. flak could’ve planted the idea in his head.  This was instinctive.  This was human.  The final lap of the marathon took place at Panathinaiko Stadium, Athen’s gorgeous old marble shell.  De Lima came into the stadium under the harsh spotlights, under the eyes of a world that wanted to feel sorry for him.  But he didn’t want that.  He wanted to play.  So he grinned, and stuck out his arms like wings.  He dipped one arm and banked, dipped the other and banked: he made like a 5-year old and did a fine imitation of an airplane skittering back and forth across a runway.  In the final lap of a race that, certainly, all his friends would soon tell him he’d been robbed of, de Lima didn’t look angry.  He was ...enjoying himself.

Happy to finish
 He was 35 years old.  How many more Olympics would he ever have?  How many nights breaking into the light of Athens?  No one was going to take that from him.  Later, of course, lawyers would get involved and try to muster pity and protest that Vanderlei de Lima should be awarded the gold medal.  But on that day, in the honest heat of the race, his message couldn’t have been clearer:  Let everyone else feel sad. I’m alive. I’m in the Olympics.  Attack me?  I’ll just go harder.  Throw me off my rhythm.  You can’t bring me down. In fact, I am going to fly.”

And fly he did, soaring with the Olympic spirit ...

Asked what he felt after he was attacked by the intruder, much larger in size than him, De Lima remarked: “It was difficult for me to finish .  With my sense of Olympic spirit I showed my determination and won a medal.”

In explaining his child-like act of flying as he neared the finish line in Athens, he beamed, “It is a festive moment.  It is a unique moment.  Most athletes never have this moment, very few have the privilege to live such moments.”

What is the Olympic spirit?  In Pierre de Courbetin’s own words – “the contribution of the muscles to the work of moral education.”   
Pierre de Courbetin's medal
And in the Olympic class of 2004, de Lima proved to be the Valedictorian.  Thus, at the closing of the Athen  Olympics, the International Olympic Committee awarded him the Pierre de Coubertin medal for the spirit of sportsmanship.
P.S.  I do not know personally Vanderlie.  I do not have any contact with him.  But in this age of emails and facebooks, I do hope to touch base with this great runner.

Nothing is impossible.


  1. Great inspiring post Padi. I never knew you have a namesake with same passion in running, hehe. Cheers! Great blogspot design Padi! Ghibz

  2. I'm sure you'll find a way to contact de Lima, you've come so far, nothing should stop you. Be sure to blog it. Wonderful blog, btw.

  3. very inspiring! marathon of life! c2