Marathon Madness

September 2008 – Edited out of this version is an interview I did with serial streaker Mark Roberts. He had some interesting opinions which I included in my final draft, but for here, I’ll just stick with the story.
It’s been four years since defrocked Irish priest Cornelius Horan famously crashed into the Athens Olympics.
Horan charged onto the course and barged Brazilian marathon leader Vanderlei de Lima into the crowd. He was just four miles from Gold.

In a flash, de Lima lost his 45 second lead and finished with a bronze medal instead of the gold he was almost certain to have won. All because Horan was trying to tell the world about our apparent impending doom.

But what has happened since then? What became of Horan and the victim of his ill-fated stunt?


Entering the stadium in Athens, de Lima was greeted to a hero’s welcome, with the crowd cheering his hard fought bronze medal.

With his arms outstretched he soared towards the finish line. Throwing kisses and waving to the crowd, de Lima’s Olympic spirit shone through. After all, he was the first, and so far only Brazilian to have medaled in this event.

De Lima’s sportsmanship was later recognized when he was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin Medal for “exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values”.  A nice gesture from the International Olympic Committee, but hardly a gold medal.

The appreciation for de Lima was repeated in his homeland and he became a Brazilian celebrity.

The press was eager to tell the story of the Brazilian farm boy who from humble roots grew into the country’s most famous marathon runner and the national athlete of the year in 2004.

In one television interview, Brazilian beach volleyball champion, Emanuel Rego placed the gold medal he had won in Athens around de Lima’s neck, making a gesture that spoke for all athletes who keep going in the face of adversity.

Although finishing third, Vanderlei de Lima was treated like a champion in Brazil. He received $66,000 from a supermarket chain who had promised the prize to any Brazilian who won gold in Athens.

Despite a subsequent appeal by the Brazilian Olympic Committee for a duplicate gold medal to be awarded, the result was not changed.

Undeterred, de Lima started his preparations for the 2008 Beijing Games.

In May of this year, just two months before the start of the Beijing Olympics, de Lima announced he would not compete.
An injury to his left thigh had forced him to drop out of the qualifiers and left him unable to defend his medal.

At 39 years of age, it looks as though this was his last chance at Olympic gold. Perhaps though, Vanderlei de Lima will overcome difficulty once again and be back in 2012, running the marathon in London.

And what of Cornelius Horan? For his role in this drama he was given a 12 month suspended prison sentence by a Greek court and fined 3,000 Euros.

Horan had previously spent two months in prison for aggravated trespass after bursting onto the track at the British Grand Prix.

The publicity-seeking priest would appear in the press again after being charged with indecent assault against a seven year old girl. He was later acquitted and celebrated by performing an Irish jig outside court.

Horan was defrocked by the Catholic Church in January 2005.

Despite saying he would not disrupt anymore sporting events, Horan was arrested by German police before the 2006 World Cup final after planning a stunt outside the venue.
Calling it a ‘peace jig’ he had planned to carry posters in support of Adolf Hitler.

Since then, he received an ASBO banning him from entering certain London boroughs to keep him away from last year’s London marathon.


Since Horan’s stunt in Athens four years ago, the end of the world has not arrived. What has, one hopes, ended is Horan’s crusade of gatecrashing sporting events.

The rest of us, however, look to athletes like Vanderlei de Lima for inspiration and a lesson in sportsmanship and fair play.





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