Singapore’s athletics fraternity buzzing as Shanti Pereira targets Asian Games glory

Singapore’s athletics fraternity buzzing as Shanti Pereira targets Asian Games glory

The Straits Times - Sports·2023-09-28 21:00

HANGZHOU – Each time Shanti Pereira takes to the starting blocks at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, the athletics fraternity will be holding their collective breaths, perched on the edge of their seats and praying for Singapore’s sprint queen.

The 27-year-old has been in stellar form in 2023 and is heading into the season-ending Asian Games with the 100m and 200m medals within her grasp.

Pereira holds the fastest times in the continent in both events this season and at July’s Asian Athletics Championships in Bangkok, she sounded a warning to rivals with an unprecedented double for Singapore.

Even though former national hurdler Dipna Lim-Prasad is overseas, she will be tuning in to watch Pereira’s races – and the rest of the Singapore contingent – through a livestream. Pereira kicks off her campaign in Hangzhou in the 100m heats on Friday night.

To see her former relay teammate win a medal at the Asiad would be a huge feat, said the 32-year-old.

She said: “The last gold medal we won was by Chee Swee Lee way back when. Just one Asian Games ago, me qualifying for the finals (I was told) was the first in over 40 years. So to now be in medal contention and vying for the top position in two events is really quite monumental.”

The Republic have only won 18 medals in athletics at the Asian Games and Pereira will be looking to add to that tally while eyeing the coveted golds.

Singapore have stood on the top of the Asiad athletics podium only twice – Ng Liang Chiang in 1951 in the 110m hurdle and Chee Swee Lee’s 400m title in 1974.

Since March, Pereira has rewritten her 100m national mark six times and has lowered her 200m standard four times.

In May, she had claimed a historic sprint double at the Cambodia SEA Games, before replicating the feat at the Asian championships.

At the World Athletics Championships in August, she became the first Singaporean to reach the semi-finals at the world meet after clocking 22.57 seconds in the 200m heats, hitting the Olympic qualifying mark in the process.

But she will be watching over her shoulder for her rivals, some of whom did not compete at the Asian championships in Thailand, including defending double champion Edidiong Ofonime Odiong of Bahrain.

In the century sprint, Pereira will be tested by China’s Wei Yongli, whose season’s best time is 11.24sec, 0.04 seconds behind the Singaporean’s national mark of 11.20sec. Bahrain’s Hajar Saad Al-Khaldi (11.27) will also be in the mix.

Bahraini Salwa Eid Naser, who won the 400m world title in 2019, will also feature in the 200m. The 25-year-old returned to competition in February after serving a two-year ban for missing three drug tests.

She has posted the second fastest time in the 200m in Asia, clocking 22.90sec in May, while Pereira’s national record stands at 22.57sec.

A gold in Hangzhou will cap what has been a phenomenal year for Pereira, who is ready to let loose after her final races in 2023 – she has booked a holiday to South Korea with her boyfriend after.

She told The Straits Times then after the world meet: “All the celebrations (will happen) after the Asian Games. The year is not over yet. The biggest competition is still to come.”

Singapore sprint legend C. Kunalan, who won a silver and four bronzes at the Asiad from 1966 to 1974, commended Pereira and her coach Luis Cunha for what they have achieved, adding there is much to learn from them.

Kunalan, 80, said: “With her current form, she deserves to win it and I think she will. She’s a very deserving athlete for these medals, everybody will be very happy and everybody will be expecting and keeping their fingers crossed.”

Seeing Pereira’s resurgence after overcoming a challenging few years has made her comeback even more special for Lim-Prasad.

She said: “Shanti’s athletic journey, while successful, has not been without its setbacks and moments of self doubt. So for us to see her overcome it and to excel and grow so much this season it’s really nice. It is a reminder that with grit, patience, and a solid coach and team, you are capable of great things.”

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