Jefferson Leonardo Perez Quezada was born on July 1, 1974 in Cuenca. He is a retired Ecuadorian race walker. He specializes in the 20 km event, in which he has won the only two medals his country has ever achieved in the Olympic Games.
He won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics, becoming the youngest-ever gold medal winner in the 20 km walk event. Following his win he embarked on a 459 km pilgrimage, walking, jogging and running from Quito's Franciscan cathedral to his hometown of Cuenca. In the 2008 Olympics he won the silver medal in the same competition at 34 years of age, before announcing his retirement from the sport.
In the 2003 World Championships in Paris, France, Perez also set the world best performance as there are no world records in race walking with 1:17:21 in the 20 km. Perez had 4th place finishes in the 20 km walk at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia and the2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. Jefferson was born in El Vecino, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cuenca, to Manuel Jesus Perez and Maria Lucrecia Quezada. Like others in his neighborhood, his family was of limited economic means. He attended the elementary schools Eugenio Espejo and Gabriela Cevallos. Afterwards he entered the Francisco Febres Cordero high school, at the same time working to help out his family.
He entered race-walking by accident. To prepare for a walk that served as a high school physical education exam, he asked his brother Fabian to train for one week next to the group of athletes directed by trainer Luis Munoz. Munoz decided to invite him to compete in a race. With few weeks of preparation he won the race AID, winning the right of representing Ecuador in New York and London as a sport ambassador. Initially he participated in distance competitions of five kilometers. Later he had to make a radical decision, which was to dedicate him completely to race walking. His first regional trophy in the 5K walk during the South American Pre Junior championship held in his native city of Cuenca. His first international achievement occurred when he won the bronze medal in the Junior World Cup of Athletics in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 1990.
Two years later, he won the Junior World title in Seoul, Korea, followed shortly by victories in South American and Pan American open competitions. His crowning achievement in race-walking came with a gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. He won a silver medal, his second medal, at the Beijing Olympic Games. He also won the silver at the World Championships of Seville in 1999, and unprecedented gold medals at Paris in 2003, Helsinki in 2005, and Osaka in 2007 for his third straight world title, the only person that has been able to achieve that. In France he broke the world record and he received a financial bonus. Perez walked his final race at the World Race Walking Challenge final in Murcia, Spain. He finished third in that race and second in the overall challenge standings.
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