Mérida, August 2, 2021 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas has become an overnight hero after smashing both the world and Olympic triple jump records to win the country’s first-ever female gold medal.
A jubilant Rojas (25) jumped 15.67 meters on Sunday, destroying the previous 15.50 m world record set before she was born and prompting celebrations in her working-class hometown of Barcelona, Anzoátegui state. The favorite Rojas out-jumped Portugal’s Patricia Mamona, who took silver, by a massive 66 centimeters, while Spain’s Ana Peleteiro took bronze.
It is Venezuela’s first Olympic gold since fencer Ruben Limardo took the honor at the 2012 London Games. Rojas was previously Venezuela’s first female Olympic silver medalist when she narrowly lost out to Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen at the 2016 Rio Games. She was later awarded the Best Female Athlete in the Americas award by the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) in 2017.
President Nicolás Maduro congratulated Rojas following her success on Sunday, calling her “the Queen of Tokyo” with an “out-of-this-world” performance. Maduro’s sentiments were echoed by Youth and Sports Minister Mervin Maldonado, who described the athlete as “humble, charismatic, intelligent, a fighter, disciplined, consistent, a patriot with a massive heart” from his temporary base in the Japanese capital.
For her part, Rojas told the president that she was “jumping on one leg with joy” after a “magical night” in the Olympic Stadium.
“[The medal] is an example of hard work and dedication (…) It is for all the children, to show them that they can struggle and achieve their dreams. We come from a land of beautiful people and fighters,” she said.
Rojas’ victory was especially celebrated by Venezuela’s LGBTIQ+ movements. The openly lesbian athlete has drawn criticism from some conservative sectors in the past, and is a public advocate of Venezuela’s long-standing struggle to legalize same-sex marriage. She previously stated that “hopefully there will come a moment in Venezuela when love between people of the same sex is respected.”
The triple jumper’s success propelled Venezuela to 29th in the medals table at the time of writing, after Julio Mayora (24) and Keydomar Vallenilla (21) also won silvers in weightlifting and Daniel Dhers (36) took the same honor in BMX freestyle. It has been deemed Venezuela’s most successful start to an Olympics Game in recent years. The country finished 65th in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games with one silver and two bronze medals.
While Venezuelans have been following the success of their athletes closely, there was controversy on social media when Mayora dedicated his medal to former President Hugo Chávez. Authorities have since called on people to respect the athlete after a number of hard-right groups launched hate campaigns against the weightlifter.
For his part, Dhers, who comes from one of Caracas’ biggest shantytowns of Catia, told supporters that his medal was “not just for me but for all of Venezuela.” He went on to promise to “work for his country” upon returning home. Dhers had previously made headlines after denouncing the theft of a colleague’s BMX in Olympic village by an athlete of another nationality. “I lived in Catia all my life and I come to the Olympic village and there’s a theft!” he laughed with Maduro on the phone link-up. The bike was later found.
For his part, the president ordered his cabinet to start organizing a “massified” government-led sports program to build on this success and enthusiasm for the 2024 Paris Games, including improving and amplifying participation, headhunting programs and attracting the best trainers to Venezuela.
Caracas upped sports funding significantly after Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999, but seven years of economic recession added to the “illegal” and “devastating” US blockade against the country have forced authorities to cut back.
Washington’s sanctions have also caused a number of practical problems in getting a Venezuelan team to the Tokyo Olympics, in addition to pandemic-related challenges.
According to government spokespersons, a handful of athletes were not able to participate after visas or government-processed flyover permits were denied for third-country stopovers and pre-events, including by Washington-aligned Colombia, Panama and Guatemala. Maduro’s presidential jet has reportedly been used to overcome some of these obstacles.
A US $2.5 million payment to secure Olympic broadcasting rights was likewise temporarily blocked in July due to US “financial persecution of the banks,” threatening to leave Venezuelan sports fans in the dark. The problem was later resolved, authorities reported.
Athletes’ training and equipment purchases have also been affected by the impact of the blockade in the build-up to the games, according to former Youth and Sports Minister Pedro Infante. During the 2019 Pan-American Games, a number of sportsmen and women denounced deteriorated installations and equipment, as well government improvisation in solving sanction-induced problems. Sanctions had previously blocked Venezuelan professional baseball players based in the US from playing in Venezuelan Winter Leagues.
“These five years of the Olympic Cycle have been atypical. Athletes have had to deal with various adversities like restrictions entering some countries. Nonetheless, the Venezuelan [Olympic] delegation has not allowed itself to be beaten by the sanctions and blockade,” Infante explained on Sunday.