Athletics: Tokyo Olympics beckon for Singapore's sprint queen Shanti Pereira

Shanti Pereira winning the 200m gold medal at the SEA Games in June. "It would be good to go to Rio to gain exposure but my goal is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," says the Republic Polytechnic student.
Shanti Pereira winning the 200m gold medal at the SEA Games in June. "It would be good to go to Rio to gain exposure but my goal is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," says the Republic Polytechnic student.ST FILE PHOTO

Rio a major hurdle, but 2020 Games are more realistic proposition

Shanti Pereira is coming off a memorable season, with a historic 200m gold - Singapore's first in 42 years - and a 100m bronze at June's SEA Games.

But, even though a mere 0.4 of a second separates her 200m personal best of 23.60 and the Olympic qualifying mark of 23.20, the Republic's sprint queen played down her chances of securing a berth in Rio.

With just a little over seven months to the qualification cut-off period on July 11, the 19-year-old has ramped up training and will enter a slate of track meets to improve her time as far as possible even though the Olympics are still a pipe dream for her.

Said the Republic Polytechnic leisure management student: "I would love to go to Rio by qualification, but I don't think I can because as of right now, I don't see it happening.

"From June 2014 to the SEA Games this year, it took me a year to shave off 0.39sec.

"And I don't think I can go another 0.40 faster in the time frame I have, because as you keep improving and getting faster, it becomes harder for you to cut your timing because there is only so much you can improve by before you peak."

ASSESSING THE CHALLENGE

From June 2014 to the SEA Games this year, it took me a year to shave off 0.39sec. And I don't think I can go another 0.40 faster in the time frame I have, because as you keep improving and getting faster, it becomes harder for you to cut your timing because there is only so much you can improve by before you peak.''

SHANTI PEREIRA

Her coach Margaret Oh added: "Shanti can cut a bit of time off her personal best but she might not qualify."

However, Shanti has pulled off such an improvement before. In 2013, when she timed 24.12 at the heats in the 2013 SEA Games, she shed 0.42 from her previous personal best of 24.54 in just five months.

Chances of a wildcard entry for Shanti are also in the balance, with marathon runner Neo Jie Shi finishing 10th overall in the women's category at the recent Standard Chartered Marathon on Dec 6, which is classified as a gold label marathon by world governing body International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

The IAAF states that the top 10 finishers in such marathons will earn a spot in the Olympics.

Regardless, Shanti is turbo-charging her preparations, training six times a week for three hours per session.

She also has at least one meet scheduled every month starting from next month, all the way to June, in a bid to keep improving and hopefully make it to Rio.

"It would be good to go to Rio to gain exposure but my goal is to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics," she said.

In order to do that, the self-confessed "slow starter" is also working on other aspects, such as improving her start off the blocks.

Coach Oh also shared that sentiment saying: "Getting a good start off the blocks is her problem where she is not quick enough.

"So if she improves on her start, she can cut down on her timing because a slow start costs time."

She added: "She also needs to work on her fitness and endurance because she is not up to standard and she can improve more."

With that, Oh remains optimistic of her protege's chances of making it to Tokyo, saying: "Qualifying for Tokyo shouldn't be a problem for Shanti if everything goes well and if she keeps improving."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline 'Tokyo Olympics beckon Shanti'. Print Edition | Subscribe