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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | TRACK AND FIELD

Perez Strikes Gold for Ecuador

July 27, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | Times Wire Services

A national anthem that had never been heard in the Olympics, one that was not expected to be heard here, was the first played in the track and field competition that began Friday. Jefferson Perez, a 20-kilometer walker, won the first gold medal ever for Ecuador.

It was Ecuador's first medal of any color.

Perez, who at 22 became the youngest champion ever in the event, was not among the favorites after finishing 33rd in last summer's World Championships. But he took 14 seconds off his previous best to win in 1 hour 20 minutes 7 seconds, breaking his national record.

Perez took the lead in the last four kilometers and opened a 30-second gap when his closest competitor, Mexico's Miguel Rodriguez, was disqualified.

But Perez slowed noticeably when he entered the track in Centennial Olympic Stadium, allowing two other walkers to close within 100 meters when he crossed the finish line. Russia's Ilya Markov finished second in 1:20:16 and Mexico's Bernardo Segura third in 1:20:23.

"When I took the lead, I felt very tired, as if I was half asleep," Perez said. "It felt like a dream. Then I thought, this is my dream. I have to go for it even if I died."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS / Track and Field

MEN'S 20 KILOMETER WALK

Gold: Jefferson Perez, Ecuador

Silver: Ilya Markov, Russia

Bronze: Bernardo Sugura, Mexico

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