Carlos Lopes was a quite average long distance runner until he made an astonishing breakthrough in 1976, aged 29. He started the season with a win at the International Cross-Country Championships. At that year's Summer Olympics, in the 10K, Lopes set the pace from the 4 km mark and the only one to follow him was defending Olympic champion Lasse Virén. Virén passed Lopes with a lap to go to win the gold medal, with Lopes easily winning the silver medal. After his superb 1976 season Lopes slipped back into the same relative obscurity in which he had been before 1976. He failed to defend his International Cross-Country title by finishing second and failed to qualify for the 1980 Olympics due to injuries. After finishing fourth in the 10K at the 1982 European Championships, Lopes attempted his first marathon at the end of 1982, but did not finish. In his next marathon, however, in 1983, he finished a close second to Rob de Castella from Australia with a time of 2-08:39. Lopes decided to run the 10,000 at the first World Championships in 1983, where he finished a disappointing sixth, and then decided to concentrate solely on the marathon. The Olympic marathon at Los Angeles was run in very hot and humid conditions and, as the favorites gradually fell away, it was the 37-year-old Lopes who led the field into the stadium to win the gold medal. In the last major competitive race of his career, the 1985 Rotterdam marathon, Lopes took almost a minute off the world's best marathon time, setting a new standard of 2-07:12.
Personal Bests: 5000 – 13:16.38 (1984); 10000 – 27:17.48 (1984); Mar – 2-07:12 (1985).