Wednesday 4 October 2023

Shanti Pereira wins gold in 200m in Hangzhou, Singapore’s first athletics title at Asian Games since 1974

Tearful Shanti Pereira says it’s a ‘so crazy, incredible season’ after historic 200m gold at Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games
By Kimberly Kwek, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2023

Shanti Pereira is squatting on the track at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium, Singapore flag draped over her as she buries her face in her hands crying, staying there for 10 seconds.

She had won the women’s 200m at the Asian Games in 23.03sec and when she finally understood what had happened, Asia’s fastest woman in the event needed a moment of stillness to process the magnitude of what she had achieved.

In the final on Monday, the 27-year-old finished ahead of China’s Li Yuting (23.28sec) and defending champion Edidiong Ofonime Odiong (23.48sec), ending the Republic’s 49-year wait for an athletics gold medal.

“I just passed the finish line and I knew I won and I was like what a season this has been, it’s been so crazy,” said an emotional Pereira at the mixed zone, choking up at times during the interview.

“I immediately teared up. It means a lot, it means a lot. I never thought I would be here but I am.

“I can’t really describe what I’m feeling right now, it’s so much joy. I have so many people to thank – everyone knows who they are. It’s been incredible.”

She had gone into the final as the top qualifier with her heats time of 23.14sec and was seen as the leading contender.

There was drama as the race had to be restarted after Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, the 2019 world champion in the 400m, was disqualified for a false start, adding to the tension of the night.

But Pereira was unaffected and as she settled back into the starting blocks, all that went through her mind was “execute, execute, execute”.

Then she ran the race of her life, beating a field that included 2014 winner Olga Safronova of Kazakhstan and Bahraini Odiong, who had bagged the 100m-200m double in 2018.

After posing for some photos, Pereira ran to the other side of the stadium, flag raised while she greeted the Singapore supporters seated in the stands.

This is the crowning achievement in what has been a stunning season for the Singaporean, who on Saturday claimed the 100m silver.

In addition to her Asiad medals, Pereira’s accolades in 2023 include golds in the 100m and 200m at the Cambodia SEA Games and Asian Athletics Championships, as well as meeting the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifying mark.

But it has not been an easy journey for the sprinter, who endured a difficult period of self-doubt as her times stagnated after she burst onto the scene at the 2015 SEA Games in Singapore where she won the 200m crown.

Pereira has been candid about her struggles and continues to do so. When a minder in the mixed zone told her she had one minute, she bargained for five, wanting more time to describe this athletic pursuit.

She said: “There’s a lot of respect for everybody out there. We’re all on this very incredible journey, just racing and finding ourselves as well so that was a big thing that happened for me.

“I really fell in love with this sport again last year and this year and I’m just embracing every opportunity I get, including this one.”

Her coach Luis Cunha, who had been watching the race from the warmup track at a nearby stadium, was proud of what Pereira had achieved.

She had come into the continental meet with eight of the top 10 times this season by an Asian runner in the event – now nine after Monday’s race – but she still had to perform on the night, he noted.

The Portuguese said: “For this championships, the most important thing was not time but classification – we knew she was the favourite but she needed to go there and deliver...

“The entire season was perfect and to finish it with a gold in the Asian Games is something incredible.”

He said: “I feel blessed to be part of her journey. It’s a journey that inspires Singaporeans. Now she’s going to be on the podium, the national anthem is going to play. It’s more important for Singapore than me.”

It was a wave of emotions for Pereira after the victory and one prominent one that stood out was relief.

She added: “Especially this particular race because it’s been such a long season. I’m just excited to rest and reset.”

Shanti Pereira races into history books for Singapore
By Kimberly Kwek, The Straits Times, 3 Oct 2023

Shanti Pereira ended Singapore’s 49-year wait for a gold medal in track and field at the Asian Games as she won the women’s 200m crown on Monday.

Singapore’s sprint queen crossed the line at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Stadium in 23.03 seconds, ahead of China’s Li Yuting (23.28sec) and defending champion Edidiong Ofonime Odiong (23.48sec).

The Bahraini’s compatriot Salwa Eid Naser was disqualified for a false start, adding to the tension of the night.

Speaking on live television seconds after her race, Pereira, 27, said: “I wasn’t really affected by the false start. It happens and we prepare for it... I was just focused on my execution from start to finish, how I came off the blocks and down the straight.

“When I saw I was ahead, I just ran for it.”

On the significance of the moment, she smiled and added: “I’ll probably be crying my eyes out later.”

The Republic’s last Asiad gold in athletics came from Chee Swee Lee, who was the 400m champion at the 1974 Teheran Games. She also claimed a silver and bronze in the relays that year. Before her, Ng Liang Chiang, in the men’s 110m hurdles at the 1951 Games in New Delhi, was the country’s only other gold medallist.

Pereira’s gold is her second medal in Hangzhou. Last Saturday, she clinched silver in the 100m for Singapore’s first athletics medal at the quadrennial Games since that same 1974 edition. With her contribution, Singapore have bagged three gold, five silver and four bronze medals in China. At the 2018 Games in Indonesia, the contingent managed a tally of 4-4-14.

It completes a stunning year for Pereira, who has notched many milestones, including winning the 100m and 200m titles at the SEA Games and Asian Athletics Championships, as well as meeting the Paris 2024 Olympic qualifying mark in the 200m.

Her feats are just the latest in what has been a golden period for Singapore sports.

Among those who have redefined what is possible for the next generation of local athletes is swimmer Joseph Schooling, who clinched a historic gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics when he claimed the 100m butterfly crown.

No comments:

Post a Comment