Sport: Latin America makes mark on London 2012

Latin American countries at London 2012; Venezuelan Limardo Gascón takes medal on the underground; Colombians bag three medals in difficult circumstances

Latin American Countries at the Games

After one week of competition in London 2012, an already successful Olympic games for Latin American countries has brought the region’s athletes within touching distance of their 500th medal. As Brazil looks to take over custody of the Olympic flame from Great Britain in 2016, the country’s sportsmen rank a close second in the Latin American medals table behind perennial giant killers Cuba.

Latin America has already brought home four gold medals and twenty two in total. Cuba has claimed two of these, with Leuris Pupo taking the Caribbean island’s first gold in shooting by winning the 25 metre rapid fire pistol and Idalys Ortiz’s victory in the 78kg Judo. As Cuba still has six fighters in the boxing quarter finals we can hope to see yet more gold in the Cuban trophy haul given the country’s pedigree in this sport.

Cuba’s success in the boxing so far is at the expense of their nearest Latin American rivals, Brazil. However, despite losing gold medal hope Everton dos Santos Lopes to Roniel Iglesias in the light welterweight, the South Americans have still gained an impressive seven medals. Piauí born Judoka Sarah Menezes became the first Brazillian woman to win a gold in the sport, defeating reigning champion Alina Dimitru of Romania.

Venezuelan Fencer wins gold and celebrates by taking medal on London underground

His president declared him a ‘national hero’ but Venezuelan swordsman Ruben Limardo Gascón proved he hadn’t let success get to his head, choosing to shun chauffeured transport for East London’s DLR metro. Limardo beat Norweigan Bartosz Piasecki 15-10 in the men’s individual épée to record Venezuela’s only second ever Olympic gold medal.

The man now dubbed ‘El Rey de Espadas’ (The King of Swords) by his countrymen, was taking the metro to celebrate in Hyde Park. On board the fencer was congratulated by passengers and posed for photographs with his medal. One passenger said the Venezuelan’s humility was indicative of the ‘atmosphere of the games.’

Limardo has dedicated the victory to his mother, who passed two years ago. ‘My mum made me work hard for this’, he said following his victory. ‘I felt she was there with my coach, I could feel the energy.’

President Hugo Chávez had more grandiose dedications for Limardo’s triumph. In a speech on Friday, Chávez declared ‘I’m going to give him, since he’s a fencer, a replica of the sword of one of the greatest fencers of our history, who was named Simón Bolívar!’

Colombians triumph over adversity to win three medals

It was a shock to the then seemingly invincible Team GB Cycling when Colombian Rigoberto Uran took silver ahead of the worlds fastest sprinter, Britain’s Mark Cavendish. In a battling performance Uran took Vinokourov Alexandre to a photo finish in which the Kazak just pulled clear in the last 500 metres.

Uran has been well acquainted with adversity throughout his life, and his determined performance in the mens road race was just latest obstacle he has had to overcome. The cyclist’s father was killed by a paramilitary group in Colombia when Uran was just 14. He then assumed his father’s role as the family bread winner and inheriting his work as lottery ticket salesman.

The Colombian worked to feed his family whilst training everyday on the bike his father had given him before he died. His hard work began to pay off when he was recruited by the Programa Orgullo Pais (Proud Country Programme) for talented athletes.

Uran is not the only competitor in the Colombian camp to overcome such struggles. Fellow medalist, Oscar Figueroa, who took silver in the men’s 63kg weightlifting, also had to move his family from an area terrorized by violence. Figueroa, moved his family from Anitoch to Cartago in Valle de Cauca to save them from paramilitary groups.

Colombia’s other medalist,  Judoka Yuri Alvear, also suffered from extreme poverty in her home in the Cauca Valley. However, following her bronze medal in under 70kg Judo, the mayor of Alvear’s province has now declared that she will be given a new home.