The first day is in the books at Rio, and the Olympic medals have been handed out. Over the course of a two-week period, more than 11,000 athletes will compete for Olympic gold. The fact that there are just 306 events makes the Olympic gold medal rare to say the least. However, it is not the rarest of the medals. That designation goes to the Pierre de Coubertin medal.
How rare is the Pierre de Coubertin? According to NBC Sports, this particular medal has only been handed out on average less than once per Olympics since it was first introduced in 1964. If one tuned into the Opening Ceremonies, they would have seen Brazil’s sole winner of the medal displayed quite prominently.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin was the founder of the modern Olympics. He was also the designer of the iconic Olympic Ring logo that is still used today.
He is noted as saying, “The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered, but to have fought.”
This was the motivation behind the Pierre de Coubertin Olympic medal.
It was best symbolized at the Opening Ceremonies by the gentleman chosen to light the torch on Friday evening, Vanderlei de Lima. So, how did de Lima earn the Coubertin medal?
Vanderlei de Lima was a marathon runner. He represented Brazil in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. While a good runner, de Lima was not expected to contend for the gold medal. However, just four miles shy of the finish line, he found himself in the lead.
It was at that moment Neil Horan, who Sportsworld explains as a defrocked Irish priest, hopped a barrier. Horan collided with de Lima taking him off the track and into a row of spectators. This cut seven seconds off of a lead that was already dwindling.
Eventually, de Lima lost his lead to an Italian runner named Stefano Baldini. Silver medal escaped him as well. That went to American Meb Keflezighi. While de Lima did hold on for the Bronze medal, one has to wonder what might have been.
In an interview with the Associated Press, de Lima explained what was going through his mind when he saw Horan coming towards him.
“When I saw the man who was jumping on me I was scared, because I didn’t know what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a knife, a revolver or something and whether he was going to kill me.”
While a setback like this could cause some athletes to demand reparations, de Lima entered Olympic Stadium that day blowing kisses to the crowd. As he crossed the finish line, he mimicked a plane coming in for a landing.
“It was a moment of overcoming obstacles and of dreams coming true.”
The 2004 Summer Olympics would be de Lima’s last, and he has no regrets to this day. He tries not to speak of the incident to much, but he has moved on from that day.
“I was never angry at that man. That moment of ecstasy and happiness was bigger than the frustration of not having won the gold, so that bronze medal, that was like gold for me.”
Today, he leads an institute that bears his name. His goal is to bring poor children opportunities that he never had. While the gold medal escaped him, the Olympic medal he did win he wears proudly with his attitude everyday.
While the Pierre de Coubertin Olympic medal winners may not have their flag raised and anthem played for all the world to see, they truly are the champions that the namesake of the trophy had in mind when he created the Olympics so long ago.
[Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images]