The fencer Rubén Limardo, after winning the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.Andrew Medichini / AP
The Venezuelan flag that flies at the Tokyo Olympics symbolizes a contradiction. The oil nation, mired in the worst crisis in its history, has led the smallest delegation of athletes since Sydney 2000. For the first time a Venezuelan, Eldric Sella, participates in the Olympic refugee team as an expression of the calamities that have expelled more than five million Venezuelans from his country. Still, the chances of bringing in gold medals this year are great. Venezuela secured quotas for 43 athletes in the Olympic event that began this week. Much less than the 86 who went to Rio de Janeiro, the 69 who were in London and not to mention the historical peak of 108 athletes participating in Beijing 2008, when the
of the high oil prices that allowed Chavismo to export its revolution throughout the region and sell the so-called golden generation of sport, of which little remains today.
Venezuela or precariousness also on the playing field
The jumper Yulimar Rojas and the karate fighter Antonio Díaz were the Venezuelan flag-bearers at the opening ceremony and embody the possibilities of bringing medals to the country.
The Venezuelan delegation adds 44 athletes classified: 11 by world ranking (karate, fencing, BMX
, boxing, hammer throw, shot put, judo, weightlifting and golf); four per country quota (sailing, cycling, judo and sport shooting); three for qualifying events (ornamental jumping, fencing and karate); six for minimum marks (athletics and swimming); two per continental quota (karate and open water) and two teams together (volleyball and rowing). The boxer Gabriel Maestre decided a few days ago to retire because the games coincide with a fight with Canadian Cody Crowley in professional boxing, where he seeks to break through. 43 left.
Behind the names of the classifieds there is an odyssey to achieve the classification, which is the one that Venezuelan citizens also live. Elite athletes like Rojas have had to leave the country in order to develop. Owner of several world rankings in triple jump, the athlete settled in Spain more than five years ago to continue her training. The stadium where he took his first leaps when he lived in the poor neighborhood of Pozuelos, located in the eastern state of Anzoátegui, is today almost in ruins.
The open water swimmer Paola Pérez had to emigrate to Chile in search of swimming pools where she could train twice a day to maintain her physical condition. Before, he had already tried to establish himself in Ecuador. In his country there is no infrastructure and he did not even have a coach. This is the case of many other Venezuelan athletes who continue their training on their own, without trainers. Pérez remains in Santiago de Chile giving swimming lessons. To fulfill his dream of being in Tokyo, he opened a campaign on the Go Fund Me platform - turned into the lifeline for Venezuelans to face illnesses or professional challenges - due to the lack of support from the Venezuelan State.
In 2019, during the Pan American Games in Peru, Pérez was in the news. He nearly died of hypothermia while competing without the regulation wetsuit for cold swimming. This demonstrated the precariousness in which Venezuelan athletes are trained. His delegation did not even have medical equipment. “Many things came to my mind, the fact that I did not have a bathing suit, the others did, they were going to have an advantage. I hadn't had a preparation, they had, so that was making me fade more and more mentally, "he recalled a few months ago in an interview with the France 24 channel.
Only three Venezuelans have won Olympic golds: the boxer Francisco 'Morochito' Rodríguez (Mexico, 1968), the taekwondo player Arlindo Gouveia (Barcelona, 1992) and the fencer Rubén Limardo (London, 2012). The most recent gold also has a history that denotes the challenges of the sport in the country. Closely linked to the government, Limardo was elected in 2015 to a parliamentary seat by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. He quickly left his public position and confessed in later interviews that he agreed to go into politics because he believed that it could bring benefits for Venezuelan fencing. Last year he published on his social networks that he worked as a food delivery man in the city of Poland where he lives in order to continue his training.He complained about not being able to dedicate himself to his work as an athlete due to the need to work on other things to support his family. Even being a world champion, he was left without government support to continue his career.
“I hear a lot about Venezuela power, but my brother Francisco, a Pan American medalist, runs out of training to work as a DJ. Others on the team work as waiters. In the meantime, countries like Brazil are sending athletes to play hard in Europe, ”he said in an interview last September when he entered the world fencing Hall of Fame, the first Latin American to do so. "To regain the level of national sport it is necessary to have planning, resources, logistics, but the most important thing is knowledge," he commented.
On the way to Tokyo, also delayed by a pandemic, there are also forfeit losses in the qualifying stages of some teams due to lack of funds to pay for air tickets to attend the competitions. The Volleyball Vinotinto lost by forfeit in 2017 when it was to debut in the broadcast World League. The Ministry of Sports and the Venezuelan Volleyball Federation did not issue the tickets in time for the men's team to participate, although they are in Tokyo today. That same year, the women's team could not contest the Grand Prix final for the same reason. Less than a month ago, Claudymar Garcés from the karate team was about to be left out of these Olympic Games due to logistical problems to travel to the pre-Olympic held in Paris. The image of the athletes stranded at the Maiquetía airport,Minutes after missing the flight, he ran through social networks as another sign of the lack of support for Venezuelan sport.
Athletes lead a sacrificial life. In Venezuela it means crossing a path full of obstacles that have nothing to do with your discipline. Lack of resources, the impossibility of completing training due to lack of equipment, gyms and courts and attending international competitions due to the drastic reduction in air connectivity that comes long before the pandemic, in addition to the economic crisis that has reduced the GDP to a third in less than a decade.
For some athletes, it is even difficult to eat adequate food in a country where a third of the population lives in food insecurity, according to the United Nations World Food Program. Most lack coaches in their training process and even when they become professionals. The coaching staff of the National Sports Institute survives on precarious salaries. Despite this, Rubén Limardo, Yulimar Rojas, Antonio Díaz -who participated in the debut of karate in the Olympic Games-, Daniel Derhs in BMX freestyle, judoka Ariquelis Barrios and weightlifters Yusleidy Figueroa, Julio Mayora and Naryury Pérez are in the best places in the rankings in their disciplines. Some Venezuelan medals could come out of this group.
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