The fencer is one of only two Venezuelan athletes to have achieved Olympic glory. His aim is to repeat his success in Tokyo, this time alongside his brothers.
1 August 2012.
It’s a day that is marked in the history of Venezuela.
At that time, the nation had only ever claimed one Olympic gold medal, won all the way back in 1968. But 44 years on, Ruben Limardo once again took his country back to the top of the Olympic podium. And though this was a special moment in history, Limardo wasn’t even aware of it.
“As time went by, I understood what I had achieved. In London I was only 25-years-old. Over time I understood how great it was for Venezuela, but at that moment I didn’t at all. Now I understand the value of the medal and the triumph for my country, because at the time I was very young,” he recalled.
Limardo had been thinking more about the past than the future at that time. He dedicated his greatest victory to his mother, who had passed away two years earlier in 2010.
“That was a tough situation for me. But she gave me the strength to win.”
Limardo’s mother had always fought for the sport of fencing, because it is something that has long been part of the family. Along with his uncle, Ruperto Gascon, she had established a project to send fencers to Poland.
"It is really difficult to develop as an athlete in Venezuela. There is no system to help you achieve success. So they created a system."
"My uncle was a fencer, and he trained in the former Soviet Union. Years later, he chose Poland because it was an important country. Plus it was cheap. It was the centre of Europe. In his opinion, Poland was the ideal place to establish the project,” Limardo continued.
After he won gold at London 2012, the project his mother and uncle have begun was renamed the Ruben Limardo Foundation.
“Now we have over 20 Venezuelan athletes in the foundation.”
“The aim of the project is to provide quality of life to the athletes. In Venezuela, many children don't have the means to practise fencing, so they see it as an elite discipline. Our intention is to fulfil the dreams of these children.”
2019 Getty Images
While Limardo himself became the face of the foundation in 2012, the idea of winning Olympic gold had been his goal since he was 14-years-old.
"Since I was 14 I believed in this project - in us winning an Olympic medal - despite many people telling me that it would be impossible. At school, other children made fun of me because they thought fencing was boring. They preferred baseball, because it is the most popular sport in Venezuela. But my family taught me to do whatever makes me happy. And fencing was that ‘whatever’.”
“In order to continue with the project, I didn’t go to parties or gatherings with friends… that’s not easy, depending on your age. But that’s the life of an athlete.”
At school, other children made fun of me because they thought fencing was boring.
But my family taught me to do whatever makes me happy. And fencing was that ‘whatever’.
Limardo's brothers are also professional fencers. In fact, Ruben battled for gold against his brother Jesus at the Pan-American Championships, with his brother eventually winning silver.
Now he wants to compete alongside his brothers in Tokyo.
“That’s my dream: to win an Olympic medal with my brothers. I don’t care about the colour. The important thing for me is to win a medal as a family. We need to work hard, because there are some outstanding teams, such as France, Italy, Korea…”
But he also has an individual goal.
“In the men’s épée nobody from Venezuela has ever won at two Olympic Games. I am fighting to be that person. That’s what keeps me fighting.”
The weight of gold
Limardo retains that goal, even though he knows gold doesn’t always bring out the best in the people around him.
“I’ve learnt a lot, particularly about fame and the unreal world where people prey on you, criticise you, promise you things, don’t keep them… you can’t allow yourself to believe you are anything more than others. You need to be humble to manage the situation. The weight of a medal in a country where not many have been won is something that could consume you."
"You need balance."
Confinement in Poland
For now, Limardo trains constantly so that he can once again win gold.
And that has taken him away from his family.
“Even though the situation in Poland is better, it’s still hard for me. My wife and son are back in Venezuela and I was meant to travel back there on 26 March. At that time, the pandemic was declared and I was stuck here. My son is almost six months old, but I've only had the chance to be with him for nine days."
"It is really complicated, but it’s not only about me."
"A lot of people are in the same situation, and the most important thing is to be healthy. While my son remains healthy, distance doesn’t matter. That is what keeps me holding on.”