Without the will and stubbornness of the cyclist Julio César León, Venezuela would not have had any representation in the 1948 Olympic Games, held in London, England, where the national tricolor is waved for the first time in the midst of a multitude of sports nationalities from all over the world.
At 23 years of age, this professional cyclist was the first Venezuelan to participate in this world championship by ignoring the recommendations of the members of the Venezuelan Cycling Federation not to go to this competition, ensuring that he would do “the ridiculous ”in front of so many experienced rivals, in the words of Julius Caesar himself, who is still alive at 96 years of age.
And although he did not obtain the desired medal in the Olympics that year, Julio César, a native of Trujillo state and winner of national and international races, stood out among the best in the world.
In Focus: The 1948 London Olympics
After several national and international triumphs in the early and mid-1948s, Julio César León, who from a young age knew that professional cycling was his thing, decided that it was time to compete with world champions, so he set his sights in the Olympic Games that would take place in August XNUMX in London. He was preparing for two years for that important sporting event.
"Since I was 4 years old I was already riding a bicycle, but it was at 15 when I began to compete in national tournaments, where I became a national champion for 25 consecutive years, I had no rivals," said the Venezuelan Olympic cyclist in one of his many interviews to the media.
He won the national championships in 1940, 1941 and 1942. He also won an important race in Trinidad and Tobago in 1941. In 1947 he achieved the gold medal in speed cycling at the II Bolivarian Games held in Lima, Peru. And at the World Cycling Championships in France in 1947 he ranks in the top eight in the sprint with a time of 10,9 seconds.
Despite all these victories, and others, Julio César did not get the support of the Venezuelan Cycling Federation to participate in the 1948 Olympics, which he had decided to attend as a competitor.
“I had no money, I had no chance to go to the Olympics. I could not find the formula to go. The Venezuelan Cycling Federation did not want me to go anywhere because we were going to make a fool of ourselves, ”said Julio César in one of the many interviews given to the press.
Britain helps Julius Caesar travel to London
It occurred to Julio César León that his brother could help him manage his trip to London through the British embassy in Caracas, after all, they were the representatives of the country where the Olympics in which he so longed would take place. take part. And unknowingly, his relative, who was an aviator, had a friend at the British diplomatic headquarters named Raymond Smith, who helped him get an appointment with the British ambassador.
"I did not know when I asked him to speak to someone at the embassy to see how he could have some help to go to London," Julius Caesar confessed in one of his many interviews.
Already at the embassy, the Olympic cyclist asked the British ambassador, whom he described as a very phlegmatic but friendly man, who had the illusion of going to his country to appear in the Olympics, that it was a dream for him, and that he wanted see if she could help him with the cost of the passage, food, subsistence.
"With great pleasure. If you want to go to my country, I will facilitate the way for you to go ”, were the words of the British diplomat that Julius Caesar repeats in each story of his odyssey to participate in London 1948; not without first commenting on having been surprised by "the ease of making the trip".
On his trip, which would take place two days after the interview he held with the English ambassador, he would be accompanied by his wife Carmen Elisa and his coach Grande Allegri. Of course he was accompanied by his Red Hawk bicycle.
More than 30 hours in a World War II bomber
The British Embassy in Caracas used a World War II bomber as transport for its official correspondence. There the Olympic cyclist would travel to London, but not before making a series of stops in some British Isles until his final destination.
They arrived at the Maiquetía airport at 6:00 am, where they were awaited by both the crew of the plane from the British embassy and by sports journalists Juan Antillano Valarino, Andrés Miranda and Franklin White, who did not hesitate to review the departure of the Venezuelan cyclist to one of the most important sporting events in the world.
Once in the bomber, the three guests are placed as follows: The cyclist's wife was placed next to the pilots, in an armchair that was for telegraphers; while Julius Caesar and his coach are placed in the machine gun compartments, one at the front and the other at the back.
The flight was 16 hours plus the stops. In total, more than 30 hours of travel. "We stopped in Trinidad, San Vicente, in everything that the British had for the Caribbean," said the cyclist. “The last stop was Bermuda. That flight lasted four hours, it was the furthest thing. We got red as a shrimp. The machine gun cabin was a dome to see around and the sun gave us, it was very strong ", he commented in one of his interviews to the media to remember his Olympic moment.
In Bermuda, they must stop to check the plane; and although they were not scheduled to stay long, bad weather forced them to wait on the island for about five hours before leaving. The longest leg of the trip was coming, which included a stopover in Lisbon before arriving in London.
Already in the English sky, the bomber makes four turns and lands at a military air base, where they spend the night. The rider and his coach sleep on a bunk with the Marines and Carmen Elisa in the ladies' bedroom. The next day they move to a settlement arranged for the competitors.
Finally in london
Julio César says that the organization of the Olympic Games was behaving very well with him until he receives a call informing them that they must register to participate in the event. "When I went to the department that was organizing the races they told me:" You cannot run here because the authorities of your country do not give you permission. " The Venezuelan Cycling Federation had imposed a veto on him.
"That was a very hard blow, it made me want to cry, so much effort," says Julio César in one of his many interviews with the media. "They told me:" call your country to see if you can fix that. " They lent me the phone and I called Dr. Julio Bustamante who was the president of the Venezuelan Olympic Committee and the secretary José Beracasa ”.
The directors of the Committee promise Julius Caesar that by getting a ticket to London they would help him resolve his situation. Luckily, they managed to fly three days after that call and managed to reverse the ban on participating in these Olympics. They also gave him $ 2.500 for his expenses.
But when that problem was solved, another one presented itself. For the opening parade of the Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium, the national flag was supposed to fly, and it didn't. He immediately contacted the Venezuelan ambassador in London, but the response he received was to find one at the consulate on Monday. It was Thursday and I needed the tricolor for Saturday.
“There, we were saddened to go out to see what we were doing. We got out on the tube and started passing the stations: Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Oxford Circus, etc. Until finally, in one of them we saw a fabric store. We bought a meter of blue, a meter of yellow and a meter of red, and my wife sewed the flag. We use a broomstick and with a hook on top. And that was the flag with which I went to the parade, alone ”.
Julio César, one of the best cyclists in the world
At the London Olympics, Julio César León competed in two races, the kilometer against the clock and the speed track.
And although he did not obtain the first three medals in either of the two competitions, he stood out for his performance and professionalism. In the kilometer trial he obtained fourteenth place, a position he achieved in a time of 1: 18,1. The winner of this discipline in these Olympic games, the Frenchman Jaques Dupont, 20, reached the finish line in 1: 13,5.
Also, in this competition, where 21 riders participated, the Venezuelan was positioned as the third best South American.
To this day, Julio César blames his “poor performance” in this race for having taken to the track with cold legs. And it is that just before starting the competition it had started to rain and the cyclists had to wait about three hours to take their positions. That time affected the Venezuelan because from one moment to another they were called to compete and he did not have time to warm up.
And although in the next test he took part, that of track speed, he could not become the first Venezuelan to win an Olympic medal, he was very close, he was positioned among the eight best riders in the world.
In the round of XNUMX he was the rival of the Italian and world champion Mario Ghella, who ends up winning the gold medal in this competition. “He beat me by a short distance, but he beat me. And eliminated ”, said the cyclist in one of his many interviews to the media to commemorate this Olympic moment.
The edition of the newspaper El Nacional on Thursday, August 19, 1948, reports that the Venezuelan stood out among the eight best riders in the world.
“Good news from London! What the cable did not tell us, so concise, comes to clarify correspondence recently arrived from the British capital, which puts things in their point. Julio César León, our humble cyclist boy, accomplished a real feat in his performance at the London Olympics ”, says the article in the Venezuelan newspaper.
Cycling race and politics
After the Olympic Games, Julio César León continued his sports career on two wheels. He joined the Italian team Bianchi and once traveled by bicycle from Caracas to Maracay in two hours and forty minutes.
He broke the Team Pursuit record with his teammate Domingo Rivas y Montilla at the Teo Capriles Velodrome of the National Sports Institute with a time of 4 minutes, 40 seconds in the 4.000 m test at a pace of 1 minute and 10 seconds per kilometer.
In 1959, the Central American and Caribbean Games were held in Venezuela for the first time, and Julio César won the gold medal in the 1 km race on the track and the silver medal in the sprint on the track.
Many years later, Julio César also became interested in politics, playing in the National Democratic Front of Arturo Uslar Pietri. He was a deputy to Congress between 1964 and 1969 and a candidate for senator in 1973.
The Gym of Weights of the Ministry of Sports, in Montalbán, Caracas, bears his name. Likewise, every year the “Julio César León Order” is delivered by the Venezuelan Olympic Committee to enhance the sports work of Venezuelan athletes, coaches, leaders and judges.
In 2008, sixty years after having dared to participate in the London games, he attends the Beijing Olympics as the symbolic standard-bearer of the Venezuelan delegation. And at 91 years of age, Julio César receives an honorary doctorate for his contributions as an athlete, leader and for having put the country on the map of world Olympism.
Today, at 96, he lives happily in Caracas, still full of glory.