Venezuelan Athletes Bring Home Medals from Pan-American Games

Venezuela has scored thirteen medals so far, including three golds, with more expected.

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Venezuelan gold medalists show off their trophies upon returning to Caracas. (Communications Ministry)
Venezuelan gold medalists show off their trophies upon returning to Caracas. (Communications Ministry)
By Paul Dobson
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Mérida, August 7, 2019 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s national team has won over a dozen medals at the Pan-American Games currently taking place in Lima, Peru.

Thirteen medals have been awarded to the Caribbean nation at the time of writing, including three golds, placing the country thirteenth in the medals table. The United States, Brazil and Mexico lead proceedings, with 67, 27, and 25 gold medals, respectively.

More medals are expected for Venezuela, with a strong chance of success in wrestling and track and field before the competition concludes on Sunday. Venezuelan sporting authorities have expressed confidence that the team will surpass the 50 medals won at the previous games.

In Lima, weightlifters Julio Mayora (male, 73kg category) and Genesis Rodriguez (female, 55kg category) have both brought home gold medals, while former-Olympic gold medal winner Ruben Limardo won the top prize in fencing.

Both Rodriguez and Mayora beat standing Pan-American records, which in the case of Mayora, was previously held by the US’ Clarence Cummings. Limardo had to defeat his brother, Jesus, in the fencing final to seal a gold-silver double for the family and country.

The games come in the midst of escalating efforts by Washington and its allies to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Representatives of 56 countries who recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s head of state also met in Lima on Tuesday, where US National Security Advisor John Bolton unveiled a sweeping embargo against the South American country. Critics have warned that US sanctions are exacerbating Venezuela’s deep economic crisis, denying the government revenue used to pay for vital imports and fund social programs.

Venezuelan Youth and Sports Minister Pedro Infante denounced what he termed a “war” against his country and lauded the athletes’ success.

“In the middle of this complex war and the attacks against the country, our athletes are standing up and filling us with pride and joy by bringing medals home,” he stated.

Caracas has announced that the 288 participating athletes are to be awarded houses and cars upon return, with medal winners also being granted the Order of Francisco de Miranda.

President Nicolas Maduro also promised greater state support for athletes, trainers, and their technical teams, including the building of a factory for producing sports equipment following “a special request from the athletes.”

Athletes’ criticisms

The promises of greater government support came amid a number of criticisms from athletes concerning Venezuela’s participation in the games.

Gold medallist Limardo decried what he described as a lack of organisation and resources provided by the crisis-hit Venezuelan state.

“It’s time that [the government] take their hands away from their eyes and see what’s going on (…) We can’t allow things like what is happening in these Pan-American games to keep happening,” he told reporters after competing.

“In the [athletes’] village you can feel the discontent, athletes who look sad, maybe they don’t have the support when they need it,” he continued.

Criticisms were also heard after Venezuelan swimmer Paola Perez was forced to withdraw from the female 10k open water swimming contest after suffering hyperthermia in Peru’s Bujama Lake. Perez claimed that the hyperthermia was caused by not having a suitable wetsuit provided to her by the Venezuelan Swimming Federation.

Similarly, sharpshooter Julio Iemma suggested that a two-month shortage of bullets impeded his performance in Peru, while cyclist Hersony Canelon complained that his appeals for government support to pay for a professional trainer had gone unanswered for eight years, forcing him to “prepare by [him]self alone.”

For his part, weightlifting silver medallist Jesus Gonzalez pointed to problems caused by travel restrictions.

“[The Peruvian government] didn’t authorize the entry of the technical team and medics (...) I don’t know if it was a problem of xenophobia,” the strongman told reporters. Venezuelan sportsmen and women were recently denied entry to Panama, limiting the country’s participation in the Pan-American Karate Championship in March.

The technical director of the Venezuelan team in Lima, Luis Salas, downplayed the criticisms, stating that “in general, everything has worked well.”

He did admit to “some problems with transport,” but later urged that these problems “not [be] magnified.” Salas also stated that the treatment his team has received from the Peruvians “has been of much friendship and fraternity.”

His statements were also backed up by individual sporting federations, including the Cycling and Tennis Federations, with the former stating it does not “understand why some people are making these crazy declarations.”

“Everything is fine. Kits and bikes are fine. We bought everything we could with the money we had and we are using it all,” the Cycling Federation added.

The Tennis Federation also clarified that it was internal divisions and not a lack of resources which caused the Venezuelan team not to participate in Lima.

Edited by Lucas Koerner from Philadelphia.