Venezuela’s Limardo Olympic Fairytale by Jonathan Liew

August 2, 2012
That we Venezuelans get excited about Ruben Limardo’s gold in London is not surprising, but reading this delightful account written by a non-Venezuelan is simply priceless. That someone can be so captivated by Ruben Limardo’s victory and story is truly a joy, I thought I would reproduce it (without permission) for all to enjoy. Thank you Mr. Liew, you made my day. And thanks MM for the tip! (And don’t miss Ruben Limardo’s picture in the London subway, wearing his gold medal)

London 2012 Olympics: how I was entranced by the wild Venezuelan Ruben Limardo

The wonderful thing about the Olympic Games is that every session of every day throws up a new hero to exalt. Some will be multiple champions, sporting greats or gallant losers. Some, on the other hand, simply charm the pants off you.

by Jonathan Liew

Everybody has their own moment of reverence at the Games, and mine came yesterday, courtesy of the Venezuelan épée fencer Ruben Limardo. I had never heard of Limardo.

Nor had the crowd, save for two dozen Venezuelan fans, cheering wildly for their man. He was no rank outsider, but nor was he expected to win a medal. Certainly not with Max Heinzer, the Swiss world No 2, lying in wait in the last 16.

The pair posed a stark contrast. Heinzer was technically flawless and tactically astute, waiting for his opponent to make the first move.

This is the surest way to win épée, which unlike sabre and foil, permits a point to be scored against any part of the body rather than just the torso.

Attempting an attack leaves you dangerously open to a counter-blow. Defence, therefore, is the key. Feinting a thrust to provoke a riposte is a frequent motif. It is what makes épée the most tactical and psychological of all the fencing disciplines.

Naturally, Heinzer knew all this. It would be unfair to say I took an instant dislike to him, but the way he fist-pumped after scoring a point had a distinct whiff of Federer-esque arrogance about it.

Twice, as Limardo lunged at him, he wriggled out of the way and then jabbed his opponent in the back.

This, though a legitimate tactic, seemed dishonourable. Later, I discovered that when you visit his personal website, it attempts to charge you for access. Ladies and gentlemen, we had a villain.

Limardo, just 5ft 9in and giving away a significant reach advantage, had one strategy only: attack.

While the other fighters in the Excel Arena — all matches up to and including the quarter-final stage are played four at a time — tiptoed cautiously up and down the piste, keeping the sword watchfully upright, Limardo leapt and lunged, rattling the épée, swishing it around, scanning Heinzer’s every twitch for a sign of what he was planning.

“It’s a sport of thinking,” says Asimina Tsellou, communications manager of the FIE governing body, whose job it is to sell the sport.

“You need to have a strategy. It’s not to do only with yourself. It’s not about training for four years and doing your best. No, here you have to understand the enemy. The hits. The strategy. You have to be in an enemy’s mind and understand his movement.”

The cerebral dimension of fencing cannot be overstated. What other sport awards “diplomas” to its champions and bestows the title of “professor” on its qualified coaches, as the British Academy of Fencing does?

Many former fencers go on to successful careers in business or academia.

Britain’s Corinna Lawrence, who lost in the women’s épée on Monday, is studying for a business degree at the Universityof Westminster.

Another British fencer, Sophie Williams, 21, is a product of Millfield School who took up the sport when she was 10. “I had a nine-year-old brother and I wanted to beat himin a sword fight,” she says.

“Luckily I’ve had a family who were supportive and drove me all overthe country.”

The criticism levelled at fencing is that it is elitist, unreachable to most due to the prohibitive cost of equipment and electronic scoring systems.

Williams admits that her parents gave her “a huge amount” of financial support, but adds: “No sport is cheap when you get to a certain level, when you’re flying all over the world. But there are great foundations now.”

Along with fellow Briton, Louise Bond-Williams, Williams lost in the first round of the women’s sabre, capping what has been a miserable Games on the piste for Britain.

Back in the stands, meanwhile, the Venezuelan fans were noisily celebrating Limardo’s 15-11 over Heinzer, joining his countryman Silvio Fernandez in the last eight.

You may have spotted where we are heading with this. How can Venezuela, with half the population and a third of the average incomeof Britain, produce two moreworld-class fencers than us?

Williams does not have an answer, but she does see progress. “It’s not an overnight process,” she says. “But we’ve made such improvements in the last year. Hopefully that will deliver medals in Rio.”

Limardo, meanwhile, is threatening to deliver a medal in London. At the start of the final round of his quarter-final against world champion Paolo Pizzo, of Italy, the score is locked at 12-12, first to 15 points. Pizzo takes a couple of steps back, Limardo a couple of steps forward.

He rattles the sword a little. Pizzo wavers for a millisecond: all the time Limardo needs to lunge forward and thrust his épée into Pizzo’s torso.

Victory follows seconds later. Limardo celebrates by sprinting dementedly around the arena, before dropping to his knees in front of the Venezuelan fans.

I have to leave for the Aquatic Centre before Limardo fights for the gold medal against Bartosz Piasecki. But during a short gap between swimming semi-finals, I manage to coax enough signal out of my phone to watch a live stream.

Limardo is magnificent. Giving away eight inches to his Norwegian opponent, he attacks with devastating speed and breathtaking agility. At 14-6, he wavers, losing four points in a row. Piasecki scents a sensational comeback. But Limardo wins the next, winning Venezuela’s first gold medal for 44 years.

As whoops ring out for Michael Jamieson and Ryan Lochte, I indulge in a small cheer of my own, celebrating this most unlikely of Olympic fairytales.

24 Responses to “Venezuela’s Limardo Olympic Fairytale by Jonathan Liew”

  1. Ira Says:

    One man like this can actually do something important with his life, instead of winning a medal in fencing. (PLEASE! Who the hell gives a crap about FENCING!?)

    He could simply state, “I won this for the Venezuelan people, who for the last 14 years, have lived under the rule of a horrible dictator.”

    That’s it. His life could actually MEAN something, as opposed to winning a medal in FENCING!

    I’m not trying to negate the accomplishment–dozens of Americans are winning medals in equally stupid sports.

    But FENCING!????????

    • Roy Says:


      Many sports are derived from now archaic martial arts:

      Javelin – Spear throwing

      Pole Vault – Siege technique used to scale city walls.

      Archery – Self explanatory.

      The sword was an important weapon for much of the history of human civilization, all the way up to around the mid-nineteenth century. Centuries of improvements in the art of sword fighting had developed it into such an elegant art form it was a no-brainer to preserve those skills in the form of fencing. It may not have the popularity of some other sports, but it is an elegant and interesting sport to watch and participate in.

      It is certainly no more “stupid”, than kicking an inflated leather bladder up and down an open pasture attempting to place it in a net against the opposition of opposing players.

  2. David Cheever Says:

    And the anglos too, congratulate Venezuela.

  3. David Cheever Says:

    On behalf of the latinos residing in United States of America: “Congratulations!”

  4. Ira Says:

    Maybe that fencer will one day kill Chavez with his sword.

    Or whatever the hell it is that they call what a fencer uses.

    • megaescualidus Says:

      That will be an impossible feat. However fast Limardo may be with his sword, HCF will be quicker, running in the opposite direction, that is. Same as he ran and hid at the Museo Bolivariano during his failed coup in ’92, and same as he resigned (and will never admit he did) in 2002. HCF will surely run fast, away from any threat, when bets for him to win are against.

  5. Ira Says:

    Miguel–I hope you didn’t expect many of us here to read an entire article on fencing.

    I read the first two sentences and I was out of there.

  6. Dr. Faustus Says:

    “Later, I discovered that when you visit his personal website (Heinzer), it attempts to charge you for access. Ladies and gentlemen, we had a villain.”

    And,…and, I’ll bet he never rode the London Tube either!

  7. firepigette Says:

    “How can Venezuela, with half the population and a third of the average income of Britain, produce two more world-class fencers than us”

    Other than China with more than a billion people, I don’t always see the population factor the big determining factor.And income? I didn’t see some of the wealthy countries winning either.

    In my opinion, the best is produced by those who have strong personal initiative, and incentive,and work hard to achieve the goals they themselves have chosen.

    Not that which is supported by some government ; because even if someone doesn’t win, if they do it on their own, it is an actual personal achievement.

    What we struggle for, helps us grow.

    Good for him!I am thrilled, and not surprised!

    OT : I wish more Venezuelans would try for medals in the Martial Arts, which I have seen a lot of talent for there.

    • megaescualidus Says:

      Population vs # of medals as a correlation is, at best a lousy one. Maybe Liew was really outraged that, perhaps a country probably he had never heard of (Venezuela) suddenly came out of nowhere and got more medals in a certain sport category (fencing) than a 1st world (member of the G20, etc., etc., etc.) country such as England (or, should I have said Great Brittain?).

      In any case, per wikipedia ( India (population 1.2 billion – “millardos”) only has an all time 21 accumulated medals (total medal count, winter and summer olympics combined, not counting London 2012), whereas China (population 1.3 billion) has 429. USA (population 314 million) has 2549.

  8. Ken Says:

    Casi me puse llorar. Primero oro en 44 anos.

    • Kepler Says:

      años. hombre, años. La cosa no ha sido tan dolorosa.

      • Ken Says:

        Hablo como hablo. Escribo como escribo..

        • Ken Says:

          Y ademas Sr. Kepler en el castellano hay que capitalizar el A cuando empezando un oracion, y tambien la palabra “ademas” aislada es un oracion incompleto. Bien doloroso el castellano del maestro.

          • Kepler Says:

            Geez, man, your humour is equal to zero. You didn’t get it. he point was not really making a fuss about your Spanish but making a traditional joke and linking it to Chavismo and that’s why you didn’t get what it was about doloroso. By the way: it’s not “en el castellano” but “en castellano”. Capitalizar means something else in Spanish than in English “capitalize”. Oración is “incompleta” and so on. Cheers. But again: that was not the point.

            • Ken Says:

              Sorry Kepler your humor is lost on the rest of the world. You patrol on here like the demons that hang out in graveyards, and if any non native English speaker makes a little mistake you are quick to jump on it. Nobody makes a fuss about your English, and your Spanish grammatical errors are common as well. Creo que puedo comunicarme bastante bien en espanol imperfecto, nunca estudie el idioma en ningun institucion, y los Brits suck. Cheers. My only original point was how awesome for Venezuela to win it’s first medal in 44 years. All the more sin ayuda Chavista.

            • Kepler Says:

              Ken, I repeat: you did not understand what I was saying. It is not even about humour, there was a level there that was not very difficult to grasp and my joke was not on you but using your words to make a joke on Chavismo. You simply do not get it. Let it go. End of conversation with you.

            • island canuck Says:

              “Sorry Kepler your humor is lost on the rest of the world. ”

              Oh, I think Kepler’s humour was understood by everyone but you.


        • syd Says:

          oh for heaven’s sake, put the man out of his misery. Ken, when you say “anos” and not “años” you are describing the anal state of Vzla.

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