From disappointment to the Olympic dream, Singapore’s sprint queen is ‘ready’ for the next challenge

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From disappointment to the Olympic dream, Singapore’s sprint queen is ‘ready’ for the next challenge

Singapore’s Shanti Pereira of Singapore celebrates winning the women’s 200m final athletics event during the 19th Asian Games at Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre on Oct. 2, 2023.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Images

Southeast Asia’s fastest woman Shanti Pereira is a household name in Singapore after winning the country’s first medal in 49 years at last year’s Asian Games — but it was not easy getting there.

The 28-year-old track-and-field athlete — often referred to as Singapore’s sprint queen — brought home a gold in the women’s 200-meter race and silver in the 100-meter race at the Asian Games.

She is now setting her eyes on the Paris Olympics in July, and training hard in the U.S. for it.

But coming so far did not come without numerous knockdowns. 

Pereira told CNBC that one of the “hardest parts” of her career was when she suffered a hamstring injury in 2018 that derailed her training. As a result, she could not progress beyond the Asian Games heats that year.

That resulted in her losing the Sports Excellence scholarship, and within the same week, the Yip Pin Xiu scholarship — Singapore Management University’s first full sport scholarship — was taken from her hands as well when her grades dropped. 

The next few years were a struggle for Pereira. 

“My energy was very focused on what other people were thinking of me and comparing myself to my competitors. But I realized there was absolutely no point in that — because these people have nothing to do with my life, my journey, and my successes.” 

The turning point came in 2022. Three weeks before the Southeast Asian Games, she finally snapped out of that downward spiral.

“I got really fed up and decided that I need to stop feeling sorry for myself as it wasn’t getting me anywhere.”

Although she did not win any medals at the games that year, she clinched two gold medals at the 2023 SEA Games.

The same year, Pereira broke the national record in the 100-m sprint six times and 200-m race four times.

Sha’Carri Richardson of the U.S., flanked by Shanti Pereira of Singapore and Shericka Jackson of Jamaica in the Women’s 200 meters semi-final heat three during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, on August 24th, 2023.

Tim Clayton – Corbis | Corbis Sport | Getty Images

Even though the hardships were painful and took “many, many years to overcome,” Pereira said it helped shape her into who she is today. 

“You build character and resilience through such experiences. It was difficult but I wouldn’t take back anything that happened as it made me the person I am today, and the athlete I am today.” 

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she added. “Track is a part of who I am and I just felt like I have a lot more to give to the sport.”

A role model

Pereira’s love for sports started when she was 9, after bringing home her first two medals at her school’s annual Sports Day race in 2005.

It wasn’t until 2015 that she made a name for herself in regional sports circles, clinching the gold medal for the 200m race at the Southeast Asian Games.

Today, she is an inspiration to younger athletes who hope to achieve the same feat one day. 

“It is pretty cool that my achievements have made such an incredible impact on many Singaporeans,” she told CNBC, highlighting it’s important for young athletes to work hard and pursue their passion. 

“To anyone that looks up to me and wants to potentially do what I do right now, the best advice I can give is to work hard and create a situation for yourself where you’re able to train and recover properly.” 

“This is not easy to do in Singapore since it’s very normal to juggle many different things at once,” she added. “But if you really have a passion for it and you feel like you can go somewhere with this, you have to make that sacrifice.” 

Singapore’s Shanti Pereira celebrates winning the women’s 200 meters final athletics event during the Asian Games in Hangzhou on Oct. 2, 2023.

William West | Afp | Getty Images

Asked who inspired her, the first name that came to mind was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt — the “world’s fastest man.”

“His feats are incredible. He was able to forget about all the pressure he was under and just show up and deliver during the Olympics,” she said.

“Your head has to be so strong to be able to do that, and it’s a really insane thing to do.” 

Paris 2024 Olympics

Pereira will be staying in the U.S. for the next two months, as she works to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics. 

This will be her second stab at the Olympics, after participating in the Tokyo Games in 2021.  

Being in the U.S. gives her the “perfect environment” to plug in as many quality training sessions as possible, she said, since most of the day revolves around training and recovery. 

“I had a lot more major competitions to prepare for last year, but I just have one this year which is the ideal situation and makes the training process different.” 

“I’m ready and I’m excited and I’m going to do whatever I can, anything I can, to do my best,” she said, touching the Olympics tattoo near her right wrist.

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