CARACAS (Reuters) - Fencer Ruben Limardo thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after breaking the country’s 44-year gold medal drought by winning the men’s epee fencing competition at the 2012 Olympics on Wednesday, saying the socialist leader helped him achieve his dream.
Venezuelans rejoiced in their nation’s first fencing medal, and their first of the 2012 Olympics, after Limardo beat Seth Kelsey of the United States and Norway’s Bartosz Piasecki.
Chavez, who is campaigning for another six-year term ahead of the October 7 election, echoed the public’s jubilation during a lengthy televised news conference, smiling broadly when a telephone call from Limardo was patched through to the hall.
“I’m very happy, brother, son of this fatherland,” Chavez told him. “There are the results! With the work of our golden generation of athletes. What pride, what patriotic emotion!”
Over a crackling line, a clearly moved Limardo thanked the president: “Thanks to you, I’ve truly accomplished my dream ... now we continue increasing our efforts for more Olympic medals.”
His surprise win created a brief moment of unity in a nation that is deeply polarized ahead of the election. Both sides accuse the other of foul play during a bitter campaign, and many Venezuelans were happy to focus on some good news from abroad.
Social media websites were swamped with pictures from his victory, and local TV stations repeatedly broadcast footage of his bouts and the medal ceremony, which included the playing of Venezuela’s national anthem.
Chavez, who joked that his vice president had hardly been born when Venezuela last won a gold medal, said huge credit was due to the entire fencing team, its trainers, “and this whole invisible army that allowed Ruben Limardo to arrive in London, to win all his battles, and to bring us the honor.”
Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Stacey Joyce