July 17, 2023
SINGAPORE – Her celebrations were not as exuberant this time, but Shanti Pereira had delivered once again.
Just two days after winning the women’s 100m crown at the Asian Athletics Championships, Pereira was first to the line at the Suphachalasai National Stadium in the 200m final on Sunday, sealing an unprecedented sprint double at the continental meet.
While she lifted her hands in jubilation again, there were no screams of celebration from Pereira, after she clocked a championship record of 22.70 seconds (0.01sec off her national mark) to secure the 200m title ahead of India’s Jyothi Yarraji (23.13) and China’s Li Yuting (23.25).
The previous record of 22.74sec belonged to Bahrain’s 2019 winner Salwa Eid Naser, who did not compete in this edition. But her latest feat in Bangkok did not mean any less to Pereira, who shed tears of joy during the medal ceremony.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Pereira said: “Friday was my first individual event, the emotions were crazy and that was after five races, now it’s eight and it’s 200m… so now I’m just really tired but soon enough the emotions will sink in and I did a championship record, which is crazy.
“I’m honestly just incredibly happy that I came out of all eight races with good performances… It’s been an incredible week and I’m just very thankful.”
Shanti, who also won a historic sprint double at the Cambodia SEA Games in May, had clinched a momentous gold medal for Singapore by winning the 100m in a national record 11.20sec on Friday.
In the process, the 26-year-old also ended the Republic’s 16-year medal drought at the Asian meet. It was also Singapore’s first medal in a track event since 1975.
Ahead of the 200m final, Pereira was beginning to feel the effects of the packed schedule.
She had run seven races before Sunday and while she felt tired, she was determined to deliver.
Not even delays before the race could stop her. The start was held up by about five minutes, but Pereira stuck to her routine, doing her warm-up before sitting on the cone at the starting block as she waited for the race to begin.
She said: “I was just thinking, you know what, let’s go for it, this is an incredible moment, an incredible opportunity that you are living right now so just enjoy yourself, make the most out of it and just go.
“I try not to think so much about the technical aspect, if not it’s so many things happening in my head. So I just try to focus, keep calm and execute.”
She was also among several South-east Asian winners at the Asian meet. On Sunday, the Vietnamese women’s 4x400m team clinched gold with 3min 32.36sec, while the Philippines’ Ernest Obiena rewrote the championship record to win the pole vault with 5.91m.
Earlier, Obiena’s compatriot Robyn Brown had won the women’s 400m hurdles in 57.50sec, while the Thai men’s 4x100m quartet also struck gold in 38.55sec, much to the delight of the home crowd.
With Pereira’s two golds, Singapore finished joint sixth with the Philippines in the medal table, as Japan ended top with 16 golds, 11 silvers and 10 bronzes.
On the back of what has been a phenomenal year for Pereira, Singapore’s sprint queen has been driven by one thing: To inspire others.
She said: “I just want my story to inspire as many people as possible… When you put your mind to it and not care about what other people think, just do you, you can do it.
“I hope that message goes across to whoever is going through a tough time.
“I went through my own series of downs that was hard to come back from, but as cliche as it sounds, you just have to believe in yourself and trust that it’s your own journey and it doesn’t matter what other people are doing, as long as you are doing what matters to you.”
Her coach Luis Cunha certainly believes she has. Struggling to find the words to describe her feats, the Portuguese said: “She almost hit the championship record on Friday and she did today, which means no one ran faster than her ever…
“There are no adjectives, this is really something good for her and athletics in Singapore. I think she’s inspiring people in Singapore, she did a fantastic job.”
The goal at the start of the season had been to just qualify for the finals, said Cunha, but they shifted the target after realising Pereira had the chance to do even better.
With two Asian titles, Pereira is looking forward to the rest of the season. She will return to Singapore for a week before flying off to Europe again to train and prepare for the Aug 19-27 World Athletics Championships in Budapest, followed by the Sept 23-Oct 8 Hangzhou Asian Games.
Pereira said: “The fact that Asian champs was this year is a really good indicator of where I stand right now among the top… My results here definitely give me a huge motivation going into it (the Asian Games).
“As for world champs, it’s the first time that I will possibly be guaranteed a spot there, not through wild card, so that’s just a whole different experience for me.
“It’s not confirmed yet, we still have to wait a couple of weeks to see if I’ve qualified. But either way, it’s been incredible and I just can’t wait to compete there.”
But first, Pereira will be hoping for a good night’s rest before she puts on her spikes again.