Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima Lights the Olympic Cauldron at Rio Opening Ceremony

Olympic Torch
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Vanderlei de Lima, who was denied an Olympic gold medal 12 years ago, lights the cauldron with the Olympic torch during the ceremony.

The Brazilian marathoner gets his golden moment 12 years after being famously disrupted during his run in the Athens Games.

Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, who was denied an Olympic gold medal 12 years ago, has lit the cauldron at the 2016 Rio Games.

De Lima was one of the suspected candidates after soccer legend Pele revealed earlier Friday that health problems would keep him from attending the opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

So 12 years later than he likely would have, De Lima got his golden moment.

De Lima was leading the 2004 race at the Athens Games when a protester attacked and disrupted his run. The spectator, defrocked Irish priest Neil Horan, attacked him and he fell back from first to third place, winning the bronze medal. He was later awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal for sportsmanship for that race and has been lauded for how he's handled the incident.

Gustavo Kuerten carried the torch into the stadium, then handed it to Brazilian basketball legend Hortencia Marcari. She brought it to the stage, then De Lima brought it up the stairs and held it aloft for 60,000 to cheer.

With that, the cauldron — one unlike any other in Olympic history — was lighted.

Brazilian officials wanted this cauldron smaller than most, a reminder to reduce global warming caused by fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. The flame is housed in a giant sculpture, with spirals to represent the sun.

The honor of the torch lighting always goes to a notable figure in the country's history, and is traditionally kept a secret to create for an emotional and memorable moment, such as the late Muhammad Ali surprising to light the 1996 torch in Atlanta.

The opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games aired at 7:30 p.m ET/PT on NBC.