20 May 2006What national radio station besides Ecuador's reports the entirety of a racewalk as if it were a World Cup final?
None is the short answer, because there is no other country whose sporting fame revolves around a single walker like Jefferson Perez.
The man who brought Ecuador their first, and to date, only athletics Olympic gold, has hinted he will finally quit after a relatively poor showing in last week's 20k IAAF World Walking World Cup in La Coruña. Such a final declaration would be enough to take the commentator's decibels off the register, were it announced in the next week or two. But the athlete, 32 in July, has gone away to lick his wounds and decide whether the suffering that saw him helped from the podium after picking up second in the Spanish port is worth it.
Following his 1996 Olympic triumph in Atlanta, Ecuador issued a postage stamp in Perez's honour. Since then, fans have sent cards from three subsequent walking World Cups and two World Championships telling everyone their man was still King. Not in La Coruña.
"Sad truth is I gave all I could" in La Coruña
By his own admission he prepared well, pushed for all his worth, and still didn't come within a half a minute of Spanish winner Francisco Fernandez. And then to gasps from Ecuadorians whose flags suddenly went limp, he admitted maybe it was time to go.
"This result was very important because in some respects it will determine whether I was going to continue racewalking or not," he said. Perez has now suffered two major setbacks since he broke the world record at the 2003 World Championships in Paris with a scintillating 1:17:21. He was an odds-on favourite to decorate his mantelpiece with a second Olympic first when he lined up in Athens two years ago. He faded badly to fourth, and the race went to Italy's Ivano Brugnetti, who was as much a surprise as Perez had been when he won in Atlanta. The Ecuadorian has had time off in the past between triumphs, and could only manage fourth in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But the La Coruña silver medal is clearly one destined for the back of the cupboard.
He said: "The sad truth is I gave all I could and I was unable to push my body as much as I have done in the past. I couldn't draw the strength I normally get from my heart and my head, and I am upset I did not show the Ecuadorian people what I can do."
Second will do for most of us, and Perez was still able to muster the kind of finish that saw him two seconds ahead on China's Yucheng Han in a sprint finish.
But it isn't in Perez's nature to crack a joke like Russian Olympiada Ivanova about collecting silvers after she finished runner-up in the women's 20k. Perez is poker-faced at the best of times, and to all intents and purposes, second might as well be last.
He said: "After the race in La Coruña we saw the future Olympic champion in Francisco Fernandez. As for me, we will have to see about the future, but at the moment all I want to do is go away and rest."
Paul Warburton for the IAAF