With his triumph in the men’s épée at London 2012, fencer Ruben Limardo became the first Venezuelan in 44 years to win an Olympic gold medal, and the first Latin American in 108 years to claim a title in this event at the Games.
Change of arms
Born in the Venezuelan city of Ciudad Bolívar and introduced to fencing at the age of seven by his uncle, Ruben Limardo started out with the foil, which he held in his right hand. However, following a broken arm sustained in a skateboarding accident when he was 12, he was forced to use his left hand, switching to the more rigid épée at the same time.
In 2005, he was crowned world junior champion in Linz (AUT). Two year later, he defeated Cuba’s Andres Carrillo 11-10 in the final of the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro (BRA). He subsequently qualified for the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing, where he was eliminated in the Round of 32 and ended up 23rd in the final classification. His ambitions were far loftier. “My dream is to become Olympic champion,” he stated at the time.
On the road to London 2012, Limardo triumphed at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez (PUR) and earned two silver medals – in the individual and team épée – at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara (MEX). On 1 August 2012, the 27-year-old Venezuelan took to the piste at the ExCel Exhibition Centre confident of making a mark on the competition.
Adopting an extremely offensive style, Limardo negotiated his way through the early rounds without any significantly trouble, upsetting world number two Max Heinzer 15-11 in the Round of 16 and reigning world champion Paolo Pizzo (ITA) 15-12 in the quarter finals.
In the semi-finals, he overcame Weston Kelsey (USA) 15-9, setting up a meeting with Bartosz Piasecki (NOR) in the final. Leading 14-6 and on the verge of glory, the South American allowed the Norwegian back into the bout, conceding four points in a row. Fortunately, he regained his composure, securing a memorable 15-10 success and going on a flag-waving victory lap that was met with rapturous applause from the captivated London crowd.
His victory in London made Limardo the first Latin American fencer to clinch an Olympic gold medal since Ramón Fonst (CUB) back in 1904 in St. Louis (USA). In addition, he became just the second Olympic champion from Venezuela, 44 years after light flyweight boxer Francisco Rodríguez’s breakthrough triumph at Mexico 1968.
Limardo was also the only Venezuelan to win a medal in London. And the locals fell in love with him after he chose to board the Docklands Light Railway the night of his victory, allowing his fellow passengers to touch the gold medal around his neck.
Top of the world
“I came here to win gold, and I dedicate the medal to my country,” said Limardo, who was greeted by thousands of celebrating Venezuelans upon his return to Caracas. “My aim was to live out my dream and become Olympic champion. It’s a goal I’ve had since I was a little boy.”
By the end of 2013, following a silver medal at the FIE World Championships in Budapest (HUN), he had climbed to the top of the épée world rankings. In 2014, he hurt his right knee and was forced to undergo an operation, but he returned the following year to pursue the next target on his agenda: the defence of his Olympic title at Rio 2016.
In 2015 he won both the Pan American Games in Toronto and the Pan American Championships in Santiago. He also enjoyed team success, as the Venezuelan team made it all the way to the final of the Pan American Championships where they were ultimately defeated by the USA and claimed silver.
Carrying the flag in Rio
The 2012 Olympic champion was given the honour of being named the Venezuelan flag-bearer at the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony at the world famous Maracanã stadium. He was joined in the delegation by younger brother Francisco who also qualified for the épée team.
In the men’s individual competition, Limardo was soundly beaten 15-5 in the round of 32 by Ayman Fayez of Egypt, who he had defeated on his way to victory four years previously in London. “Four years ago I won for Venezuela but today it wasn’t to be. Sport is like that, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” he said after the contest.
In the team competition, the Limardo brothers teamed up with Silvio Fernandez and Kelvin Caña to overcome Brazil in the round of 16. Moving in to the quarter-finals they faced eventual winners France, where they lost 45-29. Their eventual 8th place finish was the best by a South American team.
Rio is not the end of the road for Limardo, who hopes to compete at one more edition of the Olympic Games. “So far, no one in my country has won two medals in the same discipline. I want to be the first. I will carry on to Tokyo 2020,” he declared.