How the Olympics Helped Me Reconnect with Venezuela

These games and the performance of our athletes are doing something strange to migrants like me: making us feel proud of the country that we felt had betrayed us

Photo: AFP

I’ve been crying a lot while watching the Olympics. It’s really not surprising, Venezuelans have lots of reasons to cry, but this time, it’s not about the usual sad stuff.

Right now, Venezuelan athletes are signing our best ever participation in the games, even while they’re dealing with the worst crisis in the history of our country, and generally without any support from a government that still wants to take credit for it all. 

Still, the calls from Maduro can’t erase the work done by the athletes, nor how proud most people feel when they see them. We could talk about how Julio Mayora and Keydomar Vallenilla’s weightlifting makes for a perfect metaphor about Venezuela, or how Ahymara Espinoza trained alone in an abandoned lot in Barquisimeto. 

Of course, the three athletes that got the most media attention before the competition were already legends in their sport. Daniel Dhers isn’t just an Olympics silver medalist, but also one of the reasons why BMX freestyle got to be an Olympic sport in the first place and the narrators kept calling him a legend with good reasons. Antonio Díaz, two times world champion in Kata and our delegation flag bearer, is a favorite to get a medal in the next few days. And of course Yulimar Rojas, who convinced the world gravity doesn’t exist while beating the world record in triple jump. Part of the magic is how they keep saying “our” medal, counting all of us in.

But as a migrant, and one that was furious at his country when he left, it’s also one way to feel proud of the place you escaped from. For a couple of years, even while still living in Caracas, I felt disconnected from my country and my symbols. I started to avoid both the flag and our national anthem, feeling like chavismo had stolen them. I didn’t just feel like I had moved away from home, I felt my home was taken away from me.

That’s the magic of our athletes. It’s not just seeing them perform in the biggest possible scenario, it’s seeing Venezuelans everywhere celebrating. I saw our diaspora flood social media in admiration and anticipation of our athletes, and it’s still happening: I literally can’t count how many times I’ve been told that pole jumper Robeilys Peinado was competing in the final this Thursday, and the support around swimmer Paola Pérez, who took part in the 10k open-water swim on Tuesday. 

But more than anything, it’s inspirational. I’m looking for work as a journalist in Spain right now, and if you know anything about the job market here you know that it’s not an easy task. But after seeing our own superheroes win in Tokyo, it’s easy to feel inspired, it’s easy to keep writing in the morning and washing dishes at night. 

It’s nice to feel this, it’s nice to cry hearing “Gloria al bravo pueblo” for a good reason, it’s fun to feel happy about being from Venezuela. The Olympic team made me connect with a country I felt had kicked me out, it made me feel our colors and our symbols like they were mine again, and that’s worth more than any medal they can bring home.