Shanti in her blaze of glory

Sprinter's gold medal in 'perfect race' emulates Barnabas' victory in 1973

THE raucous spectators quietened gradually into silence as the sprinters took to the starting blocks for the women's 200m race. Anticipation was thick in the air yesterday at the National Stadium.

Perhaps the 11,257-strong crowd felt that Shanti Pereira, 18, was about to make history.

And Singapore's newest sprint queen certainly did, emerging from the bend with a strong lead in what was described by officials later as a "perfect race", clocking 23.60sec to clinch the gold and lower the national record for the second time in a day.

Her arms aloft, her right index finger raised to the skies as she strode across the finish line, it was then that celebrations erupted and tears flowed.

Not since Glory Barnabas at the 1973 edition - when the biennial affair was still called the South-east Asian Peninsular Games - has Singapore tasted success in this event.

Said Shanti, who also won a bronze in the blue-riband 100m sprint the day before: "I'm so crazily happy, I can't describe how I feel right now.

"I definitely wanted a medal but I didn't want to be stressed out over it, because I knew if I were (anxious), I would end up not doing as well."

Qualifying for the final with the second-fastest time of 23.82 - eclipsing her 2014 national mark of 23.99 - the Republic Polytechnic student admitted she had felt intimidated and nervous ahead of her pet event.

While the 100m bronze provided confidence, Shanti was particularly wary of 100m winner Kayla Richardson of the Philippines, who had qualified fastest in the heats with a time of 23.67.

"Seeing how she did (in the 100m) and in the heats today, I knew she was my strongest competitor," said Shanti.

Her coach Margaret Oh, however, had more faith in her charge's abilities.

Said an emotional Oh, still wiping tears of joy from her cheeks: "All along, Shanti has been more confident in the 200m. (I knew) she was in control of this race and she ran perfectly.

"It's been a very tough few months (of training), but I'm very happy that (she) was able to achieve what I wasn't able to do."

Barnabas, who watched the race from the stands, is confident Shanti can go even faster.

She told The Straits Times: "She's got age on her side and plenty of time to go out and perform at even bigger events."

Shanti's win capped a stellar day for Team Singapore in the athletics competition.

Thrower Zhang Guirong delivered a gold in the women's shot put event, the 37-year-old's sixth straight title in this event.

Her distance of 14.60m, while a far cry from her 2005 national record of 18.57m, was good enough to put her ahead of Thailand's Sawitri Thongchao (13.62m) and Areerat Intadis (13.31m).

Said Zhang: "This is my seventh SEA Games but the feeling I had today walking into the stadium is so different from the past.

"I'm getting on in age, but as long as Singapore needs me, I will still be there at the next SEA Games."

Dipna Lim-Prasad got the Republic off to a good start when she took silver in the women's 400m hurdles in 59.24, re-writing her own national record of 59.59 set in May.

She finished behind Vietnam's Nguyen Thi Huyen, who set a Games record of 56.15, and ahead of Thai Wassana Winatho (1:01.69).

It marked a comeback for the 24-year-old, who had struggled with a hamstring and hip injury.

Last night's race, in fact, was just the sixth time she has hurdled in the last 2-1/2 months.

Said Lim-Prasad: "My preparation hasn't been ideal, but I'm just counting my blessings that I was able to finish and get a strong podium finish."

Last night, even with all the events for the day completed, the majority of the spectators continued to linger in the stadium.

They were waiting for the final victory ceremony of the day - when the Majulah Singapura would be played in Shanti's honour.

Having waited 42 years for the National Anthem to be played for a victorious woman sprinter, one hour more clearly did not matter.

maychen@sph.com.sg

 Get more updates, photos and videos