Neal Horan pushing Vanderlei de Lima at the 2004 Athens Games Marathon
No Brazilian had ever won Olympic gold in the marathon, and there he was, in first place at the home of the marathon, Greece, competing in the 2004 Athens Summer Games.
With only 7 kilometers to go, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima was in the lead by a healthy 25 to 30 seconds when a man in a green vest, red skirt and green socks burst out of the crowd from de Lima’s right, grabbed de Lima and proceeded to push him all the way off the road and into the shocked crowd watching the race.
de Lima pushed his way out and back into the race, but lost a precious 15 to 20 seconds. And as you can see after he returned to the race, he was clearly disgusted with what had happened. (Be amazed as you watch the incident unfold around the 20 second mark in this video.)
In the end, de Lima was eventually passed by gold medalist Stefano Baldini of Italy and silver medalist Mebrahtom Keflezighi of the US. De Lima finished third, 42 seconds behind Keflezighi and 1 minute 16 seconds behind Baldini.
Would de Lima have won the marathon championship if not for literally being sidetracked? It’s hard to know. While the IOC declined an appeal by the Brazilian Athletics Federation to award de Lima with a gold medal, they did present him with the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship. (The first one was awarded at the 1964 Tokyo Games.)
The perpetrator was Cornelius “Neil” Horan, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest from Ireland. Horan made the headlines the previous year by running onto the track at the 2003 British Grand Prix, running hard down the track in the direction of oncoming Formula 1 cars darting to their right to avoid Horan. (Be amazed again as Horan makes his appearance 10 seconds into the video below.)