The Priest who Ruined an Olympic Marathon


I could have changed the name of this page to The Good, The Mad and The Irish for this story. The actions of former priest Neil Horan during the early to mid-2000s were that of a man who clearly had an unusual way of looking at the world. Born near Scartaglen county Kerry in 1947 he was ordained a priest in 1973 by former bishop Eamonn Casey before moving to Bexley in Kent to work as a parish priest.

In early 1974 an event occurred which it is claimed to have changed the course of Fr Horan’s life. While cycling in Dartford a few miles from his Bexley base he spotted a poster advertising a lecture which read Signs of the End of this Present Age given by a group called The Apostolic Fellowship of Christ. From this point his believed that the end of the world was near, and his religious teachings took this direction in contrast to what the Catholic Church teaches.

Few people were aware of Horan or his beliefs until he burst onto the scene in the British Grand Prix in 2003. Wearing his now famous outfit of orange skirt, green socks pulled up to his knees, green waistcoat and beret he ran across the Hangar straight in Silverstone while the race was being held. Silverstone is the home of the British Grand Prix and held the first F1 world championship race in 1950 so if there was ever a stage to bring his beliefs to a world audience this was it.

Drivers going at close to 200mph reacted quickly to avoid him swerving their cars around the man who carried a banner that read Read the Bible. The Bible is always right. Luckily no one was hurt in the incident and Fr Horan received a two-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to aggravated trespass.

Undeterred by his recent spell behind bars Fr Horan carried out his most famous stunt which had a detrimental effect on the 2004 Olympic marathon on the streets of Athens.

On the morning of August 29th Horan flew to Athens where marathon was due to be held that afternoon. Despite tight security he managed to launch himself at the leader of the race Vanderlei de Lima, a Brazilian who had a lead of over half a minute at the 35km mark. Horan had his usual religious message attached to his back at the time of the brief attack. De Lima was assisted by a spectator and helped on his way losing only 20 seconds.

With his lead cut and the emotional trauma of such an unexpected incident de Lima eventually finished third over a minute behind the eventual winner Stefano Baldini from Italy.

Understandably the fallout from Horan’s attack was massive with people asking how a man of such notoriety could gain this kind of access in spite of all the security measures. Horan’s family back home in Kerry were quick to apologise to the athlete involved and also questioned how something like this could happen.

The head of Brazilian athletics called for de Lima to be given joint gold saying the extraordinary circumstances warranted such a move. The international Olympic committee while sympathetic to the case refused the call and de Lima had to be content with third.

De Lima stated after the event The psychological shock was the greatest impact I have suffered. To be attacked like that it was painful. I was totally defenceless and exhausted.

De Lima however refused to join in the calls for himself to be given a gold medal and even declined the offer of a medal from volleyball player Emanuel Rego who had won gold at the 2004 games.

Horan was given a 3000 Euro fine for the attack and a 12-month suspended sentence. Apparently even Horan’s own family were surprised at the leniency of the court.

In 2016 de Lima lit the flame for the games in Rio after earlier taking part in the torch relay.

The story of Fr Horan did not end there and he made further plans to highlight his message. By 2006 this message was becoming somewhat confused as he travelled to Germany to give readings outside the Olympiastadion in Berlin where the World Cup final between Italy and France was due to take place. After the readings he planned to do a jig and later light a candle in memory of Hitler.

Horan’s family had now become more vigilant with regard to his movements and informed German authorities who promptly arrested him. He was held in Berlin for two months before the case before him was discharged and he was released.

Bizarrely he appeared in series 3 of Britain’s Got Talent doing an Irish jig and making it through to the second round where he was eliminated. It’s hard to believe the programmes producers didn’t know who he was but it did drum up more publicity for the show, as if it was needed.

He has made more recent appearances in the media, including outside court in support of Rolf Harris in 2017. In that same year he appeared in the Westminster area of London with a placard which read Donald Trump is sent by Christ.

There’s a fine line between genius and madness and some of the world leaders of the last century may not be that far removed from Fr Horan. Short eye catching slogans, bombastic messages and a flair for the unpredictable in another life Fr Horan could have been a top politician.

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