Caracas: Socialist-run Venezuela has been unable to replicate the Olympic glories of political bedfellows Cuba, China or the old Soviet Union.   

Yet there is no lack of enthusiasm among the 60 or so athletes heading to the London Olympics with the dream of adding to the South American nation's gold medal tally of one.    

No one will be cheering them louder than President Hugo Chavez, a sports-lover who has poured oil revenues into the "massification" of sport as a major plank of his self-styled revolution in Venezuela since taking power in 1999.   

"In socialist countries, the government is close to sport," Venezuela's Olympic Committee President Eduardo Alvarez told Reuters, praising Chavez's efforts to take sport to the masses.   

"Political support is a catalyst ... It makes Venezuelan athletes stand out to the world," he added. "In a different political system, where people have to pay, there's exclusion, that's an important difference."   

Venezuela sent a record 110 athletes to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, more than twice any of its previous teams.    

Despite that boost in numbers, Venezuelan fans were largely disappointed: taekwondo competitor Dalia Contreras brought home the only medal, a bronze. She has since retired.   

That had Chavez's many detractors in the politically-polarized nation scoffing at the failure to turn Venezuela into an Olympic player. Critics say the president has politicized sport for his own self-aggrandizement, and claim funds have been chaotically and sometimes corruptly allocated.   

Main Hopes In Wrestling, Cycling   

The Venezuelan Olympians going to London are fewer than the Beijing delegation because several large teams, including women's softball and volleyball, failed to qualify.   

Venezuela will spend around $20 million preparing athletes for London, Alvarez said at the Olympic committee's headquarters next to a stadium in a down-at-heel Caracas district.    

That pales in comparison to powerhouses like the United States, whose committee has an annual budget of roughly $150 million.   

Venezuela has a poor Olympic record, both before and after Chavez's socialist experiment began in 1999.   

Boxer Francisco Rodriguez won Venezuela's only gold in Mexico City in 1968. Two other silver medals have come in boxing, while Venezuela has also won eight bronzes.   

The main hopes for adding to that mediocre tally this year lie on the shoulders of wrestlers and cyclists.   

Luis Liendo and Ricardo Roberty are within reach of a bronze after each finishing fifth in their category at this year's International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles qualifying competition in Istanbul.    

Both are first-time Olympians.   

"I feel so proud to be able to represent my country," said 30-year-old Roberty, speaking on the telephone from his family's home on the Caribbean coast of Venezuela.   

"I like Venezuela to be represented in sports, and to do my country proud," he said, a day before leaving for several competitions in Europe.   

Venezuelan's cycling teams are also in with a shout.   

The men's national team is ranked third in the Americas in road cycling by the International Cycling Union (UCI). They came eighth in the 2012 UCI world championship team sprint race.   

Individually, cyclist Angie Gonzalez is strongly placed after taking third in the women's omnium race at the UCI world championships.   

Socialism And Sports   

While Venezuela is far from replicating the success of other socialist countries, the government continues to promote sport as a form of patriotism.   

Historically, that has been a common trait in socialist nations. The old Soviet Union was a prolific Olympic competitor, Cuba has one of the highest medals per capita tallies, and China     led the gold medal tally in Beijing.   

"Leaders use sport to project particular images both abroad, that their system is more successful, and domestically, to act as a form of social glue to tie people to the success of the system," said Joseph Maguire, an expert in sports and politics at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.   

"Venezuela wants to project the idea that they are successful, that the socialist model, or the Bolivarian model, is a more equitable, fairer system."   

Despite government enthusiasm, not all Venezuela's Olympic preparations have gone smoothly.   

Cyclist Daniela Larreal, ranked 12th in the world for the women's sprint and a four-time Olympian, recently took to Twitter to complain that the Sports Ministry had failed to fund her training in Switzerland.    

"I've spent almost a month waiting for a signature, using all channels, but have got nothing. On to plan B - the media," she said on Twitter on May 8.   

Larreal said she needed 150,000 euros to pay her trainer and doctor, buy airplane tickets and fund her living expenses abroad but that the money had not yet arrived.   

"They're tricking and lying to the president about the funds that reach athletes," she said of sports officials.

(Agencies)