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Olympic star hops on train so Londoners can touch his gold medal

Sara Miller LlanaThe Christian Science Monitor

The photo of the Venezuelan athlete who won gold in fencing Wednesday night and then boarded London's subway system hours later, letting strangers touch his medal, has spread around the globe.

At a time when the Olympic games are criticized for turning into a billion-dollar affair where athletes are treated as celebrities, Ruben Limardo's simple decision to take public transport, instead of a chauffeured car, has received international praise.

“What a fantastic thing to do! Must have given all the passengers a real treat,” wrote one reader of Yahoo News.

“I hope they gave him a round of applause, he deserves it. Good stuff mate,” said another.

“Wow can't imagine Michael Phelps doing something like that, well done!”

Leading up to the 2012 Olympics, the Monitor compared a much simper affair in 1948, the last time London hosted the games. “There was no Athletes' Village, nor special road lanes for VIPs. After winning gold in the 800 meters, American runner Mal Whitfield, still in his tracksuit, took the train back to team headquarters at nearby Uxbridge air base,” wrote Ben Arnoldy here.

Many fans long for more Whitfields and Limardos in today's games. One Tube passenger – as the subway system is nicknamed – told the BBC that as Mr. Limardo came onto the metro, passengers clapped and cheered, and that the Venezuelan taught his fans how to say “well done” in Spanish.

"I've never seen someone so happy in my life," Chris Scanlan, told the BBC. "And I touched his medal. It's probably the first time a British hand has been on a fencing medal for centuries!"

Of course, Limardo is not the only humble athlete in London. The Monitor profiled several who have overcome great difficulties, without the support of sponsors or their governments, to make it as Olympians. Here is one example of a marathoner from Peru, with links to the other stories. She didn't even own her own shoes when she started out.

Venezuela will be celebrating its local hero when Limardo returns home (which he'll do in three days, according to his Twitter account). Limardo is the first athlete to have won a gold medal for Venezuela in 44 years. It is a rare piece of good news from Venezuela, where a highly polarized nation heads to the polls October 7 to either stick with President Hugo Chavez or choose a new leader, amid inflation and spiraling crime.

The victory of Limardo gives the nation a chance to unite, but it's likely to be short-lived. Our guest blogger dubbed his celebration on the Tube the "Photo of the Year." But in the comments section, another blogger doesn't let the celebration pass without a dig:

“A unique experience he won’t be able to repeat in Caracas Metro, unless he has either a strong security detail or wants to lose the medal on purpose.”