SEA Games: Glory for Shanti

It would have taken a herculean effort for Veronica Shanti Pereira to sleep last night.

The 18-year-old probably still had adrenalin coursing through her veins after she created history at the National Stadium yesterday by winning gold in the SEA Games women's 200m race, emulating Glory Barnabas' feat from 42 years ago and setting a new national record of 23.60sec in the process.

Roared on by over 7,000 fans - many of whom probably also cheered her on when she won the bronze in the 100m a day earlier - Shanti powered home ahead of newly minted ASEAN 100m queen Kayla Richardson of the Philippines (23.71) and Vietnam's Nguyen Thi Oanh (23.92).

Almost an hour after her race, with most of the stadium empty, The New Paper asked her if she could feel the difference in weight between a gold and bronze medal when it was slung around her neck.

Her response was instinctive, immediate.

"You feel it here," she said, raising her palm to her chest, where the Singapore flag was on her race attire.

She didn't need to say much else.

It was clear she was bursting with pride after ending Singapore's 42-year sprint gold-medal drought in at the SEA Games.

Shanti had announced herself as a contender for the 200m title after the morning heats, when she clocked 23.82 to better her previous national mark of 23.99 and advance to the final as the second-quickest qualifier, behind Filipina-American Richardson.

But the Republic Polytechnic leisure management student stole the show in the final.

Looking cool and relaxed in Lane 4 - she delivered a wink and a heart-shaped salute to her supporters when the pre-race introductions were made - Shanti burst out of the starting blocks and negotiated the curve with ease.

Neck and neck with Richardson with about 80m to go, she somehow found an extra gear to eventually finish over one-tenth of a second clear of her rival.

"The game plan was to have a really good start and not go so fast on the curve, just keep up with the person next to me, and hopefully I'd have more energy at the end," explained Shanti.

"It (managing the curve) is the thing my coach has tried to work on the most.

"After the curve, I got a bit scared because the Malaysian girl (Zaidatul Husniah Zulkifli, who finished sixth) was getting close to me, so I just decided to chiong (Hokkien for rush) ahead and it worked."

The first person she embraced after crossing the finish line was her coach of six years, Margaret Oh.


Oh, a former national sprinter, could not contain her emotions and wept tearfully as the two shared a special moment.

"Yesterday cry a bit, today cry like hell," Oh said later.

The track coach at the Singapore Sports School said she knew a gold was on the way after seeing her young protege prepare for the race.

"The 200m is Shanti's pet event, so there was no tension, no stress," she said.

"Even during her warm-up for the final, I could see a difference from yesterday. That's when I knew she would win the gold. But I didn't tell her.

"I just reminded her to focus and not go too hard on the curve, if not she'll have problems in the last 100m."

Barnabas, who watched the race from the stands near the finish line, was filled with pride and backed Shanti to go on and make an impact in Asia.

She noted Shanti's personal best times of 11.80 in the 100m and 23.60 in the 200m are not far from the bronze medal-winning times at last year's Asian Games (11.50 in the 100m and 23.45 in the 200m).

"I think she can run her best times when she's in her mid-20s or even 30s," said Barnabas.

"After all, I did my two national records (in the 100m and 200m) in 1974, after I turned 30."

Oh added: "Shanti turns only 19 this year and I haven't given her a full adult training load. I've still been very conservative. Next year, we'll see an even better Shanti."

The teenager herself, meanwhile, was in dreamland.

Signing autographs and posing for wefies with her family, friends and supporters well after the victory ceremony, she said: "The future? I just want to improve my time, meet faster opponents and beat them."

Singapore's new sprint queen has delivered her warning. Now watch her go.

Forever our Shanti

In the end she won easily, much to the shock of so many of her own.

And in a Games for the ages, for Singapore, she pulled off one of the most stirring feats, to become our Shanti.

He is forever our Fandi and she our Jos', now he is our Joe, perhaps one of our young footballers will want to get in on the act starting tonight, but Veronica Shanti Pereira (right) gained membership into the exclusive Singapore sports club after sprinting 23.60sec at the National Stadium yesterday to win the 200m gold.

It has taken 42 years for Singapore to once again show off a SEA Games sprint gold medallist and the beaming smile the 18-year-old flashed moments after her momentous triumph said it all.

She was so happy. She didn't know whether to jump up and down, run crazily around, or laugh and cry.

But gosh that smile said it all.

Shanti loves her sport.

I remember how she was all wide-eyed with excitement on an early December morning two years ago as she waited to meet world and Olympic sprint champion Allyson Felix.

The Singaporean teenager couldn't get enough of Felix and hung on to the American's every word.

She is a sports nut.

Whose face and name will forever be in the Singapore Sports School's Hall of Fame after bagging the 100m bronze and the 200m gold within 24 hours.

Still only a teenager, our sports administrators will have to come up with a game plan to, perhaps, offer her the kind of training programme our swimming superstar Joseph Schooling is enjoying, to give Shanti every chance of realising her potential.

I'm sure sports minister Lawrence Wong would have been thinking that, moments after she crossed the line in such stunning fashion.

She actually made him wait a couple of seconds during the victory ceremony to wave the Singapore flag and a beaming Wong would not have minded one bit.

Like all of us, he would have been proud of her.

She hinted at what was to come after the morning heats. The doubters felt the Philippines' Kayla Richardson, the 100m champion who finished the heats ahead of the Singaporean, had more in the tank. Hours later, Shanti said this time, she would be queen.

This is what it feels like to witness one of our own reign supreme in a track sprint event at a Games.

Even Allyson Felix would have been proud of our Shanti.

This article was first published on June 11, 2015.
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