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If Pele doesn't light the Olympic cauldron in Rio, then who?

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The Olympics are full of tradition, the greatest of which is the lighting of the Olympic cauldron following a months-long trek of the torch that begins in Olympia, Greece and ends in the host city of the games. When it finally arrives in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5, it will have traveled thousands of miles and endured countless hiccups. The only thing nobody knows for certain is who will be the last torchbearer, and therefore the one who lights the fire in Maracana Stadium.

Brazil’s choice seems to be a foregone conclusion in the legendary Pele. Pele is widely regarded as the best soccer player to ever live, winning the World Cup three times and being the all-time leader in goals scored. And in a soccer-obsessed country like Brazil, there’s likely not a better candidate.

But we’re going to try anyway. Here’s a list of the 10 athletes not named Pele who could light the Olympic cauldron for Brazil at the opening ceremony:

Aida dos Santos (high jump) – Santos competed in the 1964 and 1968 Olympics in Tokyo and Mexico City, but left without earning a medal in either trip. Her best finish was a fourth-place finish in the high jump at the Tokyo Games. Despite not earning a medal Santos is somewhat of a pioneer for women’s athletics in Brazil; she was the only woman member of the Brazilian delegation in Tokyo, as well as the only track and field athlete. In terms of significance, she might be the best alternative to Pele lighting the torch.

Oscar Schmidt (basketball) – Schmidt is the most successful and arguably greatest Brazilian basketball player ever, playing professionally for 30 years in Brazil, Spain and Italy. He led the Italian league in scoring seven times, the Brazilian league eight times and was the scoring champion once while in Spain. He is the all-time leader in points scored at the FIBA World Cup, and he played in five Olympics for the national team. He famously never played in the NBA because he wanted to play for his national team and the league didn’t allow players to play in the Olympics until 1989.

Gustavo Kuerten is the greatest tennis player from Brazil (Getty Images)
Gustavo Kuerten is the greatest tennis player from Brazil (Getty Images)

Gustavo Kuerten (tennis) – Kuerten competed professionally for 14 years, winning three French Open titles in five years. The former world’s No. 1 player represented his country at the 2000 Sydney Games, albeit unsuccessfully. He’s also the only man to beat Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi in the same tournament. On a lesser note, he also has the best hair on the list.

Giba (volleyball) – Volleyball is popular in the U.S., but not quite like it is in Brazil, where volleyball players are often among the best and most popular athletes in the country. Giba is Brazil’s greatest men’s volleyball player after a career that saw him lead Brazil to 25 gold medals in international competitions, including three FIVB World Championships, the 2004 Olympic gold medal and silver medals at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Games.

Jackie Cruz Silva and Sandra Pires (beach volleyball) – In 1980, Silva was part of the Brazil’s first women’s volleyball squad to qualify for an Olympic Games. Together the pair represented Brazil in the first games that featured beach volleyball at the 1996 Atlanta games, winning gold. The pair would also win two World Championships together.

Torben Grael (sailing) – Grael may not be the most popular name among Brazilian athletes, but he is surely one of the most successful. The sailor won a record five Olympic medals, including two gold, which is tied for the most ever by a Brazilian. He was the first ever sailor to achieve the mark, though he was joined in that illustrious club by the next candidate on this list.

Robert Scheidt (sailing) – Grael’s successor as Brazil’s greatest sailor makes a strong case to be the best in the country’s history. Scheidt tied Grael as Brazil’s most decorated Olympian by getting bronze at the 2012 London Games, his fifth medal overall, including two gold. Sheidt also won 12 World Championships in two different classes. He was the country’s flag bearer for the 2008 Beijing Games, so officials may try to give someone else a shot at the spotlight.

Maurren Maggi won gold at the 2008 Olympics. (AP)
Maurren Maggi won gold at the 2008 Olympics. (AP)

Maurren Maggi (long jump) – At the 2008 Beijing Games, Maggi earned Brazil’s first and only medal in women’s track and field by placing first in the long jump. After enduring a doping ban early in her career, Maggi rebounded nicely by competing in consecutive Olympics and earning a spot on the podium. (Sidenote: She also looks a lot like San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon.)

Rodrigo Pessoa (equestrian) – Like Sheidt (and Sandra too), Pessoa’s chances to be both a flag bearer and cauldron lighter are slimmer than other names on this list. Flag bearers (which Pessoa was in 2012) tend to be lesser-known athletes, so he fits the mold there, but the lighting of the torch carries much more significance, and it’s doubtful the three-time Olympic medalist in equestrian beats out the other athletes listed.

Ronaldo (soccer) – Given the sport’s popularity, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than a soccer player having this honor, and who other than the country’s next most heralded legend to do it (if not Pele). Ronaldo was part of a team that featured Rivaldo and Ronaldhino, known endearingly as the Three Rs, that won the 2002 World Cup. Ronaldo enjoyed success professionally in Spain and Italy, and was a three-time FIFA World Player of the Year. But given that the soccer team has never won gold, his spot on this list is more honorary than anything.