SEA Games: S'pore's new track star

SEA Games: S'pore's new track star
Smriti Menon with her 4x100m relay team colleagues (from right) Wendy Enn, Shanti Pereira and Eugenia Tan.

She's only 17 and on track to becoming a regional athletics star. Just last month at the Taiwan Open Athletics Championships in Taipei City, Mumbai-born Smriti Menon and her 4x100m relay sprintmates broke the Singapore national record twice - 46.44 seconds in the heats and shaving off another 0.26sec with 46.18, when they finished third behind Thailand (45.42) and Indonesia (45.88).

This month, she is looking forward to being part of a rare breed of Indians wearing Singapore colours in the SEA Games as it comes to town from June 5 to 16, after a 22-year hiatus. Singapore last hosted the biennial Games in 1993.

"I feel very honoured to be given the opportunity to don Singapore colours in such a prestigious competition, as the anchor (last leg runner) in the 4x100m relay," she says. "I must admit we have a tall order for the SEA Games relay medal. Thailand is fancied as they won the gold at the 2013 SEA Games. But believe me, we're going to give it our best shot before the home fans, and if we get our baton-passing right, anything can happen. We can pull off a big surprise."

With a fiery, disciplined tone in her voice, the teenager notes: "Through all my years of training I've learnt that nothing is achieved without hard work. There definitely is blood, sweat and tears but it is all worth it when you achieve the goals you set for yourself.

"Until last September I still wasn't able to run a sub 13sec for 100m in any of my competitions and it really started to bother me. I remember after my run in the Singapore Open 2014, I ran a 13.2sec and I was so disappointed with myself and just could not understand why I wasn't able to run below 13sec even after training hard.

"I almost felt like giving up. Then came the Singapore Under-23 Open where I told myself to just apply all that I had learnt in training, and to do my best. I came in second in that 100m race, running 12.78sec. I had finally broken the 13sec barrier!"

Sports and dance

Smriti comes from a family with interests in sports and dance.

"My maternal grandfather excelled in school athletics and swimming. My mother took part in running races in Mumbai school-relay competitions and my father is still active doing half-marathons here.

In general, we enjoy sports as a family and this has encouraged me to take athletics seriously."

Her father, Mr Mahesh Menon, 47, is president of the cotton division at Olam International. He and his wife, Prasanna, 42, a homemaker, hail from Chittur in Kerala's Palakkad district. He recalls: "Smriti, our only child, was very hyperactive, somersaulting on beds at five,

and we maximised her early highly-energised potential. She now trains very hard and, over the last one year, she has developed into a rising international sprinter. We're very proud of her."

Smriti, who arrived in Singapore when she was six months old, also has a natural flair for the classical bharatanatyam dance, which she says has helped her in her sport.

"My mother was also an avid bharatanatyam dancer and I guess the passion for this dance form has been passed down. I started when I was seven but had a few breaks in between as I changed teachers. Bharatanatyam has definitely made me stronger, which does help with sports. The various postures in bharatanatyam strengthen many muscles like the quads."

According to her, bharatanatyam has the same benefits as another ancient exercise form, yoga, if followed correctly. It reduces body fat and strengthens muscles and vital organs like the heart and lungs. The steps are designed to strengthen the back, abdomen and pelvic floor muscles and help in easing backache, she says.

"I will encourage every teenager to pick up the classical dance as the steps will improve flexibility of the body and increase muscle and joint strength, which are very important if you're intending to pursue other forms of sports, as I did with competitive athletics."

The ultimate dream of a teenage classical dancer is to do the arangetram (the debut onstage performance) and the Grade 11 student at Overseas Family School, an international school, has set her mind on doing it after her International Baccalaureate exams, "perhaps the end of next year".

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