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Who will light Rio 2016 Olympic cauldron?

Mens Marathon

Getty Images

Getty Images

The Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony is Aug. 5, 2016, and the star of the night is already a topic of conversation.

Who will light the Olympic cauldron at the Maracanã?

All signs point to Pelé as the favorite, but while the soccer icon is perhaps Brazil’s greatest athlete of all time, he never played in an Olympics.

If Rio organizers choose an Olympian as the final torch bearer, they could look to a man who competed in the trademark event of the Games, endured an attack and offered forgiveness to a man who tried to ruin the race of his life.

Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei de Lima was leading the Athens 2004 Olympic marathon, run on the famed route that inspired the 26.2-mile race in 490 BC, from Marathon to Athens, with about four miles to go.

That’s when a defrocked Irish priest ran onto the course and grabbed de Lima. The Brazilian was passed less than 10 minutes later and earned bronze, but he smiled and blew kisses as he entered the stadium used at the first modern Olympics in 1896 to cross the finish line.

De Lima holds no ill-will toward his attacker.

“For me my achievement in Athens is much higher than that episode,” de Lima, who also received a second medal from the International Olympic Committee for an exceptional display of Olympic values, said in an email.

De Lima is a candidate to light the Rio Olympic cauldron who is praised as humble by Brazil’s 1984 Olympic 800m champion Joaquim Cruz, who lit the cauldron at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio, and by Brazilian media.

Read more about de Lima, his attacker and his life since the Athens Olympics in this NBC SportsWorld story.

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