SEA Games: The Straits Times team's favourite moments in Hanoi

(From left) Athletes Shanti Pereira, Martina Veloso and Elle Koh. ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH

The SEA Games have delivered thrilling sporting action from some of the region's top athletes over the past two weeks. The Straits Times' team in Hanoi shares their favourite moments of the Games, as well as the best images in and beyond the field of play.

Shanti Pereira wins 200m race - Sazali Abdul Aziz

My first SEA Games assignment coincided with Shanti Pereira's, so watching her emotional reaction after winning the 200m race at the My Dinh National Stadium carried a poignance few other events did.

I was at the finish line in Myanmar in 2013 to watch her as a fresh-faced 17-year-old student cross the line fourth in her pet event.

Two years later, I was waiting at the end again - this time at Singapore's National Stadium - as she became the nation's darling by winning a first sprint gold for Singapore in 42 years.

That was as good as it got for Pereira for a while, with injuries and ugly politicking within the sport proving to be hurdles as she settled for bronze medals at two consecutive Games.

Some lost faith in her abilities - netizens and, by some accounts, even some in the high-performance set-up - and while she had her moments of self-doubt, Pereira was determined to prove to them - and herself - that they were wrong.

She did that in Hanoi, when, fuelled by sheer willpower, she dipped ahead of half-American Filipino Kyla Richardson to take gold by 0.05sec.

Seven years of emotions then flowed out of Pereira in a moving, cathartic moment. Again, I happened to be at the finish line.

SPH Brightcove Video
Singapore sprint queen Shanti Pereira captured her second women's 200m SEA Games gold medal at the My Dinh Stadium on Saturday (May 14), seven years after she won her first on home soil.

Clutching the flag as she came over, she asked with quivering lips: "Real, right? This is real? Oh my God."

Yes it was, Shanti. Your inspiration was as real as it got.

Meeting Olympic champion Panipak Wongpattanakit - Laura Chia

After Thailand's Panipak Wongpattanakit won her Under-49kg kyorugi final, she returned to the training mat in a space next door. Instead of speaking to her at a mixed zone or in a conference room, I conducted my 20-minute interview with her seated on the mat along a wide corridor.

ST reporter Laura Chia interviewed Thai Taekwondo Olympic champion Panipak Wongpattanakit on the training mat and enjoyed it immensely. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LAURA CHIA

The reigning Olympic champion had no airs, inviting me to sit beside her as she rested. She was friendly, patient and thoughtful with her answers even though English is not her first language.

One of the first things she told me was to follow her TikTok account, and then she spoke about her love for food, travelling and Moomin, a Finnish cartoon.

She did not mention her Olympic gold until asked and she always makes sure to give credit to her family and team for supporting her.

I never thought I would be able to get so up close and personal with an Olympic champion but at the SEA Games.

After talking about taekwondo, she got right back to more important business: "You write down my TikTok and follow me! @panipak2540."

And I did. Please follow her.

Shooter Martina Veloso's grit - Deepanraj Ganesan

Gold medallists and record breakers often grab the headlines with their feats. But high up on the list of my memorable moments from these Games is the image of shooter Martina Veloso taking aim as a single tear rolled down her face.

Martina Veloso at the women's 50m rifle 3 positions finals at the 31st SEA games on May 20, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

It happened during the women's 50m rifle three positions final where the 22-year-old had been expected to win her third Games gold medal. But after a poor start, it seemed she would be going home empty-handed.

At the midway mark, she was on the verge of elimination but each time she pulled through. And when it was down to three shooters, Veloso had an outside chance of making the top two. And as she prepared to take her shot, tears had welled up in her eyes.

Given that she had been so close to going home without a medal, winning a bronze felt like gold.

It reminded me that not all comeback stories must end with a title or gold medal and the grit and never-say-die attitude Veloso showed to fight her way to a bronze deserves to be remembered alongside the 47 gold medals from Singapore.

Fencer Elle Koh holding her own - Kimberly Kwek

Before the SEA Games, 14-year-old epee fencer Elle Koh talked about how she was still learning to cope with the pressure of representing Singapore on the international stage.

She was put to the biggest test of that when facing the home favourite Vu Thi Hong in the semi-finals.

Elle Koh wins in the fencing women's individual epee semi finals against Vietnam’s Vu Thi Hong at the 31st SEA Games on May 13, 2022. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

At her first SEA Games, Koh showed nerves of steel as she held her own against competitors much older and more experienced than her.

Displaying a composure beyond her years, Elle fought off stiff competition from Hong in front of the home crowd, who urged their athletes on with loud roars each time she scored a point.

And the 1.64m teen held her own, unleashing a scream after winning each point to narrowly edge out her Vietnamese opponent 15-14.

It was heartening to see the young athlete come into her own at these Games as her sporting career is just taking off.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.