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London 2012 hero Limardo on the gold trail again

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Venezuela’s first Olympic champion in 44 years and the Games’ first Latin American fencing gold medallist in more than a century, épée specialist Ruben Limardo wrote his name in the history books at London 2012 and is determined to defend his title in Rio.

Born in the Venezuelan city of Ciudad Bolívar and introduced to fencing at the age of seven by his uncle, Rupert Gascon, Ruben Limardo started out as a right-handed foil fencer. However, after breaking an arm in a skateboarding accident when he was 12, he was forced to use his left hand and switch to the more rigid épée.

Crowned world junior champion in Linz (AUT) in 2005, Limardo took the Pan American Games title two years later in Rio, defeating Cuba’s Andres Carrillo 11-10 in the final. He then qualified for Beijing 2008, where he was eliminated in the Round of 32 and finished 23rd overall. His ambitions were far loftier than that, however, as he explained at the time: “My dream is to become Olympic champion.”

A landmark in London

On the road to London 2012, the Venezuelan triumphed at the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez (PUR) and picked up a pair of silvers – in the individual and team épée – at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara (MEX). By the time he took to the piste at the ExCel Exhibition Centre in the British capital, the 27-year-old was confident he could make a mark on the biggest of all stages.

Adopting an extremely offensive style, Limardo negotiated his way through the early rounds, upsetting Switzerland’s world No2 Max Heinzer 15-11 in the Round of 16 and then beating Italy’s Paolo Pizzo, the then reigning world champion, 15-12 in the quarter-finals.

Next came a 15-9 semi-final defeat of the USA’s Weston Kelsey, which set up a meeting with Bartosz Piasecki of Norway in the final. After surging into a 14-6 lead that put him on the verge of glory, the South American allowed the Norwegian back into the bout, conceding four points in a row.

Promptly regaining his composure, Limardo sealed a memorable 15-10 success, and celebrated by wrapping the national flag around his shoulders as he embarked on a victory lap that was met by rapturous applause from a captivated crowd.

The first Latin American fencer to win Olympic gold since Cuba’s Ramon Fonst at St Louis 1904 and only his country’s second Olympic champion of all time, after light flyweight boxer Francisco Rodríguez at Mexico City 1968, Limardo was Venezuela’s one and only medallist at London 2012.

He won the hearts of the British capital’s commuters in the wake of his victory, taking the underground to the city centre and sharing his success with his fellow passengers, letting them have a touch of the precious medal hanging around his neck.

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On 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 jubilant compatriots on 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.”

He went on to win silver at the FIE World Championships in Budapest (HUN) the following year, which he ended atop the épée world rankings. After injuring his right knee in 2014 and undergoing an operation, he returned with his sights on qualifying for Rio 2016 and retaining his Olympic title.

Victorious in the individual épée competitions at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto (CAN) and the Pan American Championships in Santiago (CHI) that same year, Limardo also helped Venezuela take team silver in the Chilean capital, where they reached the final against the USA.

That performance has fired his hopes of a unique double in Rio. “It would be fantastic to win two medals at a single Games. That would be so exciting for us all,” said the champion fencer, who, if his compatriots have their way, would be a hugely popular choice as the nation’s flagbearer at the Opening Ceremony.

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