How Venezuela won South America's first Olympic fencing gold medal

Rubén Limardo returned from London 2012 as a national hero after winning his country's first gold in 44 years

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Limardo defeats American Seth Kelsey in the men’s individual épée semi-finals at London 2012  (Photo: Getty Images/Hannah Johnston)
Limardo defeats American Seth Kelsey in the men’s individual épée semi-finals at London 2012 (Photo: Getty Images/Hannah Johnston)

Rubén Limardo Gascón was welcomed back to Venezuela as a national hero after winning gold in fencing at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Limardo beat Norwegian Bartosz Piasecki 15-10 in the men’s épée final. As a prize, he received a replica of South American independence leader Simón Bolívar’s sword from the hands of his country’s then president, Hugo Chávez.

The gold won by Limardo was Venezuela’s 12th Olympic medal, its first in fencing. It was the country's second Olympic gold: the other was won in Mexico City in 1968 by boxer Francisco Rodriguez, who made a point of attending the party held to celebrate Limardo's victory.

The London 2012 gold for Venezuela was a clear display of fencing’s growth in South America.

“The sport has been growing a lot on our continent”, says Renzo Agresta, a Brazilian athlete who competed in the last three editions of the Olympic Games and moved to Italy to practise with the most talented fencers in the world. 

Limardo’s gold was only the second Olympic fencing medal won by a South American. The other was won back in 1928, in Amsterdam, when the Argentine foil fencing team composed of Luis and Hector Lucchetti, Roberto Larraz and Raul Angannuzzi won bronze.

Italy, France and Hungary are the countries with the most Olympic fencing medals. Last year in London, Italy won three gold, two silver and two bronze medals in the sport. In all, 204 athletes from 44 countries took part in the fencing competitions. Six won at least one gold and 13 stepped onto the podium, including three from countries that had never before won Olympic medals in fencing: Venezuela, Egypt and Norway.

Also in London, the foremost woman in Italian Olympic sport, Valentina Vezzali, won the sixth gold medal of her career. A flag bearer at the opening ceremony, Vezzali has won nine medals since she debuted at the Atlanta 1996 Games, surpassing another fencer, Giovanna Trillini, who has climbed onto the podium a total of eight times.

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Vezzali competes against Russian Inna Deriglazova in the women’s team foil finals at London 2012 (Photo: Alex Livesey)

Among men, Edoardo Mangiarotti is the greatest medal-winner in the history of Olympic fencing. The Italian competed in five editions of the Games, from Berlin 1936 to Rome 1960, and stepped onto the podium 13 times, winning six gold, five silver and two bronze medals. Mangiarotti is ranked fourth among the multiple Olympic medal-winners of all times. (At the London 2012 Games, the top-ranking medallist, American Michael Phelps, reached an incredible 22 medals, 18 of them gold.)

Present at the modern Olympic Games since its first edition, in Athens in 1896, fencing was first contested in the foil and sabre categories, and only among men. The épée category was introduced in 1900, the same year that the first South American participated in the Games, an honour bestowed on Argentine Francisco Camet.

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