This article originally published on USATODAY.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, who had the eyes of the world upon him Friday night as he lit the caldron at the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, has received an apology from the man who ruined his hopes of Olympic glory 12 years ago.
Cordeiro de Lima was the leader, on course for victory in the Olympic marathon in Athens in 2004, but he was accosted by Neil Horan, a defrocked priest from Ireland, with 4 four miles to run. The disruption cost the Brazilian athlete enough time that two men passed him and he ended up with the bronze medal.
“I want people to know that I do regret what happened,” Horan told USA TODAY Sports via telephone on Saturday morning. “It was an awful thing to do, and I should not have put my hands on him at all.”
However, Horan also insisted that without the infamous moment, denying Cordeiro de Lima the chance to step to the top of the podium, he would not have been selected for the opening ceremony’s ultimate honor.
Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima gets honor of lighting caldron
“Successful athletes are forgotten quickly sometimes, even gold medalists,” Horan added. “Without what happened, I don’t think he would have been chosen. He is up there on a global level with Pele now, and that is because of what happened with me.”
Brazilian soccer legend Pele was originally tabbed to light the caldron, but withdrew hours before the ceremony due to poor health.
Horan claimed he has tried to apologize to Cordeiro de Lima in person several times over the years, but that the athlete has always refused to meet him.
“I wasn’t doing it as a prank,” Horan added. “I was doing it to spread the gospel and to prepare people for the second coming.”