Jefferson Pérez is an Ecuadorian hero. As the first – and only – person to win Olympic medals for the South American country, Pérez is one of the country’s most iconic athletes. In 1996, he won gold at the Atlanta games in the 20 km walk. Twelve years later, he won a silver at the same event – coming second to Russian race walker Valeriy Borchin.
However, in January 2015, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency suspended the already-retired Borchin for eight years for “abnormal blood levels” in his “biological passport,” according to Reuters. As testing for performance-enhancing drugs becomes increasingly more sophisticated, backtesting urine and blood samples isn’t rare. The Olympics, for example, store samples up to 10 years.
With Borchin still the official gold-medal winner of the 20 km race, Amalie Motor Oil started a campaign aimed at getting Jefferson Pérez his second gold medal. Through Jeff Marcha a Rio, Amalie encourages people to use social media to help right this wrong, El Universo reports.
The company even released a video on Día del Deporte Ecuatoriano (July 26) to bring attention to this cause. There’s also a matching website. “We promote clean sports,” the site reads. “Let’s make it so that hard work, discipline, and following the rules are enough motivation so that the medal can be returned to the rightful champion. So that Jefferson Pérez receives the medal he fairly won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics at the 2016 Rio games.”
It’s uncertain how the Olympic committee will act, but reassigning medals isn’t the most expedient process. In 2013, Adam Nelson received his gold medal from the 2004 Olympics in an airport food court. But it’s not as though the medal magically fixed what went down in those years. “The reality is that the only people to get punished in the sport from doping [are] the clean athletes,” he said, according to ABC.
Jefferson retired after Beijing, because he had, essentially, wrecked his body. When he trained, he’d push himself to the limits, despite what his team and doctors said. “When I came in second in Beijing, I doubted my training,” he told El País. “I thought that the athlete who beat me had better training than me, but after that, with the doping ruling, I knew he used substances that I didn’t know about.”
Meanwhile, people are showing Pérez support by tagging the Olympics and #MarchaARio. Check out a few reasons people say he deserves the gold:
To read even more coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, click here.