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Pele misses Rio Olympics opening ceremony

Pele did not attend Friday's opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics because of poor health, thereby denying Brazilians the chance to celebrate their greatest sports figure.

The 75-year-old soccer great said this week that he had been invited to light the cauldron, but that was not confirmed by Rio organizers.

"I'm not physically able to attend the opening of the Olympics," Pele said in a statement Friday.

Pele had hip surgery recently and often walks with a cane. His absence was a huge disappointment to fans and organizers. He is easily Brazil's most recognizable athlete — or former athlete — even though he stopped playing almost 40 years ago.

"Only God is more important than my health," he wrote. "In my life, I've had fractures, surgeries, pain, hospital stays, victories and defeats. And I've always respected those who admire me."

He said not attending was "my own decision."

He tweeted during the opening ceremony:

I am there with you tonight with energy and thought at Maracanã Stadium. God bless you all! #olympics #openingceremony

— Pelé (@Pele) August 6, 2016

Pele's planned role in the opening ceremony was never clear. He said earlier that a commitment to a sponsor would force him to travel the day of the ceremony.

"If I manage to change [the travel plans], I would like to have the honor to light it," he said.

Brazilian marathoner Vanderlei De Lima did the honors of lighting the cauldron, getting his golden moment 12 years later than he might have.

De Lima was leading the 2004 race at the Athens Games when a protester attacked him and disrupted his run. De Lima wound up finishing third but has been lauded for how he 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.

In his statement Friday, Pele apologized for disappointing Brazilians and said "as a Brazilian, I ask God to bless all who participate in this event."

He signed the statement Edson Arantes do Nascimento — Pele.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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