SINGAPORE - Jeevaneesh Soundararajah is still a newbie when it comes to the 1,500m having only started training for the event less than two years ago. But things are falling into place at the right time for the national middle distance runner, 29, ahead of May's Hanoi SEA Games.
His preparations received a timely boost after he clocked his personal best of 4min 00.99sec at the 82nd Singapore Open Track & Field Championships on Saturday (April 16).
He finished third, behind Alfrence Braza (3:59.19) of the Philippines and Malaysian Prabudass Krishnan who won in 3:54.23 at the Home of Athletics in Kallang. Filipino Mariano Masano, who took silver at the 2019 Games, was fourth in 4:10.52.
The two-day meet is the first athletics event here with foreign participation since the pandemic began.
Jeevanesh, who broke Soh Rui Yong's Singapore record to win the Pocari Sweat 2.4km Challenge in January, was pleasantly surprised to have beaten Masano.
He said: "The objective for me at this race was to see where I stand compared to some regional competitors so this is essentially my first indication of their timings.
"It's a good feeling to know I was faster than a silver medallist but I wouldn't say that means I can medal at the Games."
After all, the 1,500m race in 2019 was a largely tactical one. Vietnamese Duong Van Thai's winning time of 4:06.63 was more than 15sec slower than the 3:51.44 he clocked to claim the gold medal in 2017.
Jeevanesh, whose only previous Games appearance was at the 2015 edition where he finished eighth in the 5,000m, is aiming for a sub-4min effort in Vietnam and hopes it will put him in contention for a podium finish.
The project manager said: "I just want to beat my personal best in Hanoi and you never know where that might leave me (medal contention wise) but since it is my first time, I think it will be hard to say I want to win a medal."
Singapore's last medal in this event came at the 2003 edition when Chamkaur Singh finished third while Avtar Singh's silver at the 1967 Seap Games is the country's best effort.
While Jeevanesh seeks his first piece of Games silverware, compatriot Shanti Pereira, 25, wants to add to her collection though she needs a sharp improvement.
The national sprinter memorably won the 200m in 2015 (still her personal best of 23.60sec) and finished third at the next two Games (23.68 and 23.77).
She clocked 24.58sec on Saturday in her final race before the May 12-23 Games while her season's best is 24.33sec at the Australian Athletics Championships in Sydney on April 2.
She said: "It could have been better and definitely not what I was hoping for. The wind was particularly strong today and that had an effect. I was hoping to hit the 24sec mark today."
Pereira attributed her drop in form to recent changes. She graduated from the Singapore Management University last August and has started working full time as a lifestyle writer.
"The amount and quality of rest that I get now is very different and that affects the recovery, which is very important for an athlete," she noted. "It has not been easy to come to terms with it. But I want to focus on what I can control and give my best in my races at the Games."
The Republic claimed three bronze medals in athletics at the 2019 Games. Pereira was responsible for two (100m, 200m) while Nur Izlyn Zaini accounted for the other in the women's 100m hurdles.