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Pima champion makes leap to UA



The nation’s No. 1 collegiate women’s track and field prospect has decided to stay close to home.

Yuliana Perez, a former junior college indoor and outdoor national champion at Pima Community College and the current U.S. track and field national champion in the triple jump, announced yesterday that she will compete for head coach Fred Harvey at the University of Arizona next year.

“I feel the UA offers the best opportunity for me educationally and athletically,” said Perez, 21, in front of co-workers, well-wishers and reporters at the Catalina foothills offices of Mission Management & Trust Co., where she is a part-time employee.

“This is a great opportunity for me.”

Perez, who exhausted her eligibility at Pima last year and has competed as an unattached athlete this season, will receive her associate’s degree from the college next week.

She turned down scholarship offers from national powers LSU and USC.

“It was a very tough decision,” Perez said. “There are a lot of good schools out there. I have my own friends and my own family here in Tucson. I have all the support here that I need.”

Perez also turned down an opportunity from USA Track and Field to move to San Diego and train full time at the USA Track and Field Training Center.

As one of the world’s most promising young triple jumpers, Perez is considered a lock to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2004 games in Athens.

“You do not have many athletes of her caliber walk into your program,” Harvey said. “She is the national champion, but she wants to be a 50-foot triple jumper. The first thing we are going to do is put her on a weight-training program.”

Last month, Perez won the triple jump competition at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif., with a jump of 45 feet, 5 1/4 inches.

She has been ranked No. 1 in the triple jump in the United States for the past two years and is considered one of the world’s top-20 triple jumpers.

“I decided to continue my education,” Perez said. “Ever since I was a little girl, I have always believed that an education was the most important thing in my life.”

Perez’s parents, Juan Carlos Martinez Vallez and Osmayda Perez, are Afro-Cubans who came to American with more than 200,000 other Cubans in the 1980 event known as the Mariel boat lift.

Vallez, who had a criminal record, was jailed upon his arrival in America. As recently as three years ago, he was still in prison in Atlanta.

Yuliana, Osmayda’s first daughter and her second child, was born at Tucson Medical Center. Osmayda, who had a second son and was living in San Diego, was shot to death under still-unclear circumstances when Yuliana was 2.

Perez and her two brothers remained in foster care in California for three years. They then were sent to Cuba to live with Vallez’s parents in Havana when Perez was 5.

In Cuba, Perez developed into one of the country’s premier young athletes, taking three Cuban high school triple jump championships.

She returned alone to Tucson four years ago after Cuban sports officials tried to force her to give up her U.S. citizenship. She competed for Pima College during the 2001 and 2002 track and field seasons.

Perez is the third major women’s recruit to sign with UA in the past year.

Tiffany McDonald, a standout senior sprinter/hurdler at Peoria High, agreed to be a Wildcat last fall. Billy Joe Grant, the defending U.S. juniors champion in the discus, signed up in January to become a Wildcat. Grant is a senior at Arroyo Grande High in Arroyo Grande, Calif.

“Our goal as a staff is to win a national championship,” Harvey said. “As everyone knows, you have to have those type of athletes, but you also have to develop them right.”


CUTLINE: Pima track star Yuliana Perez signs her letter of intent to attend the University of Arizona.

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