S'pore's fastest woman, and only 16

SINGAPORE - Singapore's fastest woman takes her own sweet time to get out of bed each morning.

Perhaps Shanti Pereira likes to admire the 30-odd medals hanging neatly in one corner of her room - all accumulated before she even turns 17.

Or stare at a painting - drawn by sister Shobana - above her headrest, depicting a pair of sneakers trailed by flames.

"If I don't knock the door a few times or call her name, she has breakfast at noon," father Clarence, 56, said with a laugh.

But once Shanti puts on her size 6 spikes, the sleepster turns into a speedster.

Nowhere was this more apparent that at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Youth Championships earlier this month.

The Republic Polytechnic student made history twice in a matter of days, equalling the 29-year 200m national record after grabbing the 100m mark for her own.

"I'm still in shock, it really hasn't sunk in yet," the bashful teenager said of her feat in Donetsk in Ukraine.

"My only goal this year was to run the 100m in less than 12 seconds." That she did, in style.

Shanti's 11.89sec burst in the century sprint eclipsed Amanda Choo's 2010 mark of 12.01.

She had come within 0.04 of the record in March, but cannot explain what finally got her over the line this time.

Sister Valerie, a former national sprinter who herself was once tipped to break the 200m record, has her own theory.

The Nanyang Technological University student, 23, said: "The world championships has a whole different setting and feeling from a Singapore event.

"You can get a big push from competing in such an environment, and Shanti took full advantage of it."

In the 200m, Shanti equalled Prema Govindan's 1984 timing of 24.54, shaving 0.06 off her personal best.

In time, she is expected to further lower both marks once the arm swing that sometimes hinders her starts is sorted out.

An army of advisers in the Pereira household will ensure she remains on the right track.

Besides Valerie, brother Anand, 26, was also a former national 400m champion while their parents were both accomplished sprinters during their school days.

They have simple advice for their youngest child, whom they teasingly describe as a "playful, simple girl who laughs a lot".

Clarence, an oil trading consultant, said: "Don't think about medals - just keep breaking PBs and the rest will follow."

Mum Jeet, 53, a childcare educator, chimed in: "We'll guide Shanti but I believe at the end of the day, she's smart enough to look after herself. She knows the whole family is there for her every step of the way."

Undoubtedly, Shanti's No. 1 fan, friend and mentor is the sister who walked in her shoes before.

Valerie is almost always by her side, whether shopping for clothes, going to the cinema or baking cupcakes at their semi-detached home near Katong.

With Shanti tipped as the future sprint queen of South-east Asia, such confidantes help keep both her feet firmly on the ground.

"I'm still a teenager; I don't want to put too much pressure on myself and be affected by what others say," said the former Singapore Sports School student, who unwinds by reading romance novels and listening to pop tunes by Irish band The Script.

She is hoping to qualify for this year's SEA Games in Myanmar as part of the 4x400m relay team.

Her sights are also set on the 2015 edition on home soil.

She said: "That's the one I'm thinking about. Winning a medal in front of your own people would be incredible."

Undoubtedly cheering on from the stands of the new National Stadium will be the Pereira brigade, led by her biggest supporter.

Valerie said: "There are no limits for Shanti. She can achieve a lot if she gets the right support and everyone allows her to do things in her own time."

That includes finding her way to the breakfast table each day.


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