More than three years ago, Ruben Limardo was a fencer not many people in Venezuela would have recognised despite winning golds at the Pan American Games.
But that all changed after the London 2012 Olympics when the 30-year-old became a star in the South American nation, winning Venezuela’s first Olympic gold in 44 years.
Limardo caught up with Sport360 during the MKFA International Epee Cup in Dubai and spoke about his preparations for the Rio Games, his favourite footballer and why he travelled by public transport to his hotel after his Olympic triumph.
It’s been more than three years since you gained stardom in your country, winning gold at the London 2012 Games. Can you share your memories on that experience?
It was very good tournament for me and it was the second Olympic gold for my country Venezeula.
Since Francisco Rodriguez won gold in the 1968 Olympic Games, the country has been waiting a long time for another triumph. Thankfully, I ended their long wait.
I remember before each match, I was thinking of my mother because she died five years ago. And with her death happening two years before the London Olympic Games, it was very difficult for me and my family.
— fundrubenlimardo (@RubenLimardoFnd) December 13, 2015
At times, it was hard to focus during training because she was such a big figure in my life. It took me quite a lot of time to recover but I kept my focus and kept saying to myself that I can win the Olympic gold medal.
Obviously it was very hard as you would expect at the Olympic Games with so many strong fencers around the world battling it out for the three medals.
But having won gold, it really has changed my life. Before the Games, I had a much quieter life outside fencing but after the Olympics, everything changed.
I was on the TV, radio and newspapers and now I’m a big star in Venezuela. Many people now know fencing because of my victory and I hope it can attract more people to the sport.
You took the unusual step as an athlete to travel by public transport back to your hotel after your Olympic triumph.
This is Ruben. For me I don’t need no limousine, car or chauffeur to pick me up.
My family were in the ExCeL Centre to watch me win and they were getting the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) back so I decided to go with them.
For me, family is very important and it was important to celebrate with them because after all I am here because of them. I was a bit surprised by the attention I received.
I was the star on the carriage and people were taking pictures of me and the medal. It was a good experience for them as I’m sure they didn’t expect an Olympic medallist to be going home on a train.
The Rio Olympics are just a few months away. Do you feel any pressure going into the event as Olympic champion?
To be honest I do feel a little bit of pressure. I am the Olympic champion and I worked very hard during my career to reach that goal.
But I’m determined to do as much as I can to retain that medal. Of course, it will be hard but anything is possible.
What are your long-term goals you want to achieve?
I want to win the world championship. That is the one I’ve not won yet. I finished last year in second place and that is one I really want to win.
Are there any role models who you looked up to when you were young?
It was definitely Pavel Kolobkov (Russian fencer). He won many medals in the Olympic Games and World Championships in the Epee Individual.
He was really a good fencer at the peak of his time and when I was young, I wanted to become just like him. He’s won one Olympic gold, two silver and three bronze medals so I have a lot more to go if I want to win as many as him.
Just how did you get into fencing?
I started when I was seven years old. My uncle Ruperto Gascon was competing in Europe and so I used to watch him closely when he came back to Venezeula.
From watching him training that was where the interest grew. Gascon is now my coach and I’m now living in Poland as it makes sense as there are plenty of tournaments in Europe.
What other sports do you like?
I like baseball and I’m a big fan of Navegantes del Magallanes. I’m also a big fan of Barcelona and love watching them play. They play with such style and I hope they can win many trophies this season.
By far my favourite player is Messi, then Neymar and then Luis Suarez – in that order. That trio is unstoppable when they are at their best.
How impressed are you with the quality of fencing in the UAE, especially the MKFA Epee Cup?
While it’s the perfect opportunity for UAE nationals to gain as much competitive experience, I think the tournament has the potential to grow. I don’t think it will be too long before more world-class fencers come to compete in the UAE.
With the facilities they have, there’s every possibility UAE can host a top fencing competition, perhaps the World Cup or the World Championships.