General News Murcia, Spain

Favourites cautiously optimistic, Perez announces retirement - IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final

Pre-race press conference in Murcia, left to right: Kjersti Platzer, Jefferson Perez, Antonio Penalver (Murcia Regional Sports General Director), Miguel Cascales (City Sports Councillor, Murcia) and Francisco Fernandez (Veronique Lauer)Pre-race press conference in Murcia, left to right: Kjersti Platzer, Jefferson Perez, Antonio Penalver (Murcia Regional Sports General Director), Miguel Cascales (City Sports Councillor, Murcia) and Francisco Fernandez (Veronique Lauer) © Copyright

It's going to be an emotional trip through the centre of Murcia tomorrow in the final of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge if today’s press conference was anything to go by.

There were tears when Jefferson Perez announced this would be the former Olympic champion, world champion, and World Walking Cup winner’s final race.

“My heart wants to go on, but my body can’t take another four years of work,” said the Ecuadorean. “But we have an expression in my country. ‘If you’re famous you can go to bed’. I’m not like that. This is the start of my sports work with kids and other important projects.”

The Ecuadorean wasn’t the only one to suggest this is it as far as serious competition is concerned.

Kjersti Platzer is ready to call it a day – but the 36-year-old Norwegian double Olympic silver medallist will delay a definitive decision for the next month.

“I need to go on vacation first. But anyone who knows me, also knows I always give everything in competition – and it’s nice to be at the top of the list,” she said.

Anything less than a win for Greek Athanasia Tsoumeléka, with Platzer nowhere, can take overall first from the Norwegian.

But she has the knowledge there are going to be a lot of tired bodies hammering up and down the 1k loop for the men’s and women’s 20Km races.

She paid tribute to her brother Erik Tysse and Australian Jared Tallent, who will also toe the line through the centre of the southern Spanish city.

“They both did the 50k and 20k in the Olympics just a month ago – but they’re here,” she said. “But in terms of competition, this is the best ever Challenge final.

“All the potential medallists are here, and you ask me about the course? Well, I can tell you any course that goes through the centre of a city where people can see it, is a good course.”

Perez and Tysse hinted that super-fast times, despite the rewards on offer, are about as likely as the temperature dropping much below 29-degrees for the morning starts.

There’s $30,000 on offer to both winners, and it couldn’t be tighter at the top in the men’s edition, with just nine points separating first to fifth.

But although Perez has a good chance to leap four places and $20,000 on the earnings schedule currently headed by Mexican Eder Sanchez, he’s here principally to do justice to the integrity of the Challenge.

He said: “If you’ve had a tough Olympics, there’s no way you can turn it around in four weeks. But it’s important to be present – the Challenge deserves it.”

Francisco Fernandez admitted his mind was in Murcia – but his body would prefer to be on the beach.

The Spanish hope faded in the Olympic 20k, but he too was paying homage to the Challenge races.

He said: “After a difficult time in Beijing, you have two options. One is to think of the next event, and the other is to relax. I’m thinking of the latter, but it’s good to be here.”

Maybe, he will think differently when his countrymen cheer him on in a part of the town which Platzer can only dream about back home in Norway.

She said: “We don’t have roads like this. People out walking, running, cycling and skating on good asphalt surfaces – it’s wonderful.

“I’ve taken pictures, and I can’t wait to show them to the authorities back home.”

Paul Warburton for the IAAF