At home, the Chavernment fully embraced the triumph of fencer Ruben Limardo as its own.
From official acts to TV spots, Chavismo insists that Venezuela is in the road to become a sport powerhouse (as the banner on the photo says) and that the comandante presidente is the only guarantee of that actually happening. After all, “Heart of the Fatherland” is his campaign’s slogan.
But Venezuela is not the only country in the region making that claim. Colombia can make the point, because it just had its best Olympic Games performance so far.
Colombia’s eight medals in total (including their second gold in history) beat its own expectations while Limardo’s gold was Venezuela’s only medal. At least better than early projections of zero medals at all. Colombia ended alone in 38th place and Venezuela in 50th, tied with Algeria, Bahamas, Grenada and Uganda. The two established sport powerhouses of the region, Brazil and Argentina finished 22th and 42th respectively.
But, how is possible to know if Colombia or Venezuela can be sport powerhouses?
The “Olympic cycle”, a modern version of the ancient Olympiad, is used for all nations to prepare their athletes to classify and then compete in the following edition of the games. In some parts of the world there are regional multi-sport events that don’t just serve as Olympic tests but as a measure how a country is doing overall in sports.
Colombia and Venezuela have the unusual privilege to complete in at least four important multi-sport gatherings: the Pan American Games, the Central American and Caribbean Games, the South American Games and the Bolivarian Games. (No. The ALBA Games don’t count!) There has been three full Olympic cycles since Chavismo took over in 1999 (they got in the middle of an Olympic cycle that ended in Sydney 2000).
For comparison, the three full Olympic cycles with Chavismo in charge (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012) will be taken in consideration to see who’s right. In the last three Olympic Games Colombian athletes won a gold, four silver and seven bronze medals while their Venezuelan counterparts won a gold and three bronze medals.
If inline speed skating was an Olympic sport (why not, IOC?), Colombia could be higher…
When we enter into regional events, it gets interesting. In the last three Pan Am Games, Venezuela surpassed Colombia in 2003 but the roles reversed in 2007 and the gap widened in 2011. In the CAC games, the pattern is more irregular: We were better in 2002, then the Colombians improved four years later and in 2010, we narrowly won.
As Colombia dropped out of the 2002 South American Games, only we can consider the two following editions: In 2006, the difference was of a single gold medal while Colombia won the 2010 edition (as hosts) by a landslide. Only Venezuela won the last three editions of the Bolivarian Games, but it was close when Colombia hosted in 2005.
Looking at the numbers, Colombian perfomance in all events has improved while Venezuelan results have either stalled or reduced (like in the Pan American Games). Sometimes both nations’ results were affected by outside factors like Cuba’s absence during two editions of the Central American and Caribbean Games in 2002 and 2010.
If Colombian sport has improved in the last decade, there’s another important factor to notice: The events it hosted. In the last decade, Colombia organized three multi-sport events, a Copa America tournament and the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup. They also have plans for the future, including the 2013 World Games (a Olympics-styled event for lesser known sports) and a bid for the 2018 edition of the Youth Olympic Games.
Venezuela has hosted its own share of international sport events in recent years, including a Copa America in 2007. However, no major multi-sport event of relevance have been hosted here since Maracaibo’s CAC Games in 1998. Some events went well without incident while in some others… our everyday reality got in the way.
Both nations have sport programs to support their athletes but sometimes Venezuelan athletes feel like they’re completely on their own, while their resources go to support extravagant adventures. The role of the Sport Ministry has been put questioned in recent years, even during these Olympics.
This competition will continue in the next Olympic cycle (starting with next year’s Bolivarian Games in Trujillo, Peru), which has a very special meaning for the entire region, as its final and more important event of all will be for the first time right next door.