Publish date:
Updated on
Year
2004

Marathoner assaulted at Olympics

On this day in 2004, Brazilian distance runner Vanderlei de Lima is attacked by a spectator while running the marathon, the final event of the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. At the time of the incident, De Lima had a 30-second lead in the race with four miles to go.

De Lima, whom few had picked to be a contender, surprised the crowd by taking the lead at the 13-mile mark. After extending his lead for the next nine miles, he was suddenly approached from his left side by a bystander from Ireland named Cornelius Horan. Wearing an orange kilt, green knee socks and a green beret, Horan shoved de Lima out of the middle of the course and into the crowd, stopping the runner’s progress. A subsequent investigation revealed that the mentally unbalanced Horan, a defrocked Irish priest, was simply looking for publicity. (Horan had spent two months in prison in 2003 for standing in the middle of the race track at the British Grand Prix for a full 20 seconds as race cars swerved to avoid hitting him.) As De Lima was subdued by security guards, De Lima resumed running, still in the lead. However, with just over two miles remaining in the race, he was overtaken by Stefano Baldini of Italy, who took home the gold. Meb Keflezighi of the United States also passed de Lima to win the silver medal; De Lima finished in third.

A shaken de Lima told the assembled press after the race, ”I was not expecting it at all. I couldn’t defend myself. I was totally concentrated on my race. I had to get back into my competitive rhythm, and I really lost a lot of it. It’s extremely difficult to find that rhythm again.”

De Lima was awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship at the closing ceremonies by the International Olympic Committee.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Michael Jackson is born

Pop sensation Michael Jackson is born on this day in Gary, Indiana. Jackson began performing with his four brothers in the pop group the Jackson 5 when he was a child. The group scored its first No. 1 single in 1969, with “I Want You Back.” By age 11, Jackson was appearing on TV, ...read more

Pizarro Executes Last Inca Emperor

Atahuallpa, the 13th and last emperor of the Incas, dies by strangulation at the hands of Francisco Pizarro’s Spanish conquistadors. The execution of Atahuallpa, the last free reigning emperor, marked the end of 300 years of Inca civilization. High in the Andes Mountains of Peru, ...read more

Soviets explode atomic bomb

At a remote test site at Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, the USSR successfully detonates its first atomic bomb, code name “First Lightning.” In order to measure the effects of the blast, the Soviet scientists constructed buildings, bridges, and other civilian structures in the ...read more

Ishi discovered in California

Ishi, described as the last surviving Stone Age Indian in the contiguous United States, is discovered in California. By the first decade of the 20th century, Euro-Americans had so overwhelmed the North American continent that scarcely any Native Americans remained who had not ...read more

Hurricane Donna is born

On this day in 1960, the storm that would become Hurricane Donna forms near Cape Verde off the African coast. It would go on to cause 150 deaths from Puerto Rico to New England over the next two weeks. On August 31, Donna attained hurricane status and headed west toward the ...read more

Women join British war effort

On this day in 1914, with World War I approaching the end of its first month, the Women’s Defense Relief Corps is formed in Britain. Though women’s rights organizations in Britain had initially opposed the country’s entrance into the First World War, they reversed their position ...read more