Police estimate that more than 20,000 gathered in Parque Calderon, Friday, Aug. 29, to honor Cuenca native son and Olympic hero Jefferson Perez. The celebration featured live music, dancing, food, reverly and an evening fireworks display.
Perez won the silver medal Aug. 15 at the Beijing games, finishing second by 14 seconds to Russia´s Valeriy Borchin in the 20-kilometer walk. Perez, who had announced earlier in the year that Beijing would be his final race, says he plans to turn his focus to university graduate studies and his work with young, under-priviledged athletes. He is Ecuador’s only Olympic gold medalist and holder of the world record in the 20k walk.
Perez refused to comment on charges that race winner Borchin was doping, saying only that he would have preferred gold to silver. In 2005 and 2006, Borchin served a 12-month suspension from the Russian team for testing positive for the stimulant ephedrine. As recently as March, two of Borchin´s teammates tested positive for stimulants and sources close to the Russian track and field federation say that drugs were used routinely by 20K athletes with the full knowledge of coaches. This was irrelvant, Perez said. “I just want to thank God for the opportunity to be in five Olympic Games and to end my career like this. Silver is not bad, but silver is silver. Sometimes I hear athletes say that silver tastes like gold, but to me, silver is silver and bronze is bronze. I can taste the difference.¨
Winner of the Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta games in the 20K walk, Perez came up short in Sydney in 2000 and, again, in Athens, in 2004. He has won three world championships, including a dramatic come from behind victory at the IAAF championships in Osaka, Japan in 2007. He holds the world record for the 20K at 1 hour, 17 minutes, 21 seconds. Besides his Olympic and IAAF champtionships, Perez has won five gold medals at the Pan American Games.
A former shoe shine boy in Cuenca´s Parque Calderon, Perez had no intentions of becoming an Olympic athlete when he was child. ¨My only interest then was to help my family financially,¨ he says. His talent was discovered, almost accidently in high school, during a physical education exam.