Shanti posing for a photo with well-wishers - Photo Credit: Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee / Action Images via Reuters
The raw emotion of sport was on view for all to see at the Singapore National Stadium on Wednesday.
An utterly joyful Veronica Shanti Pereira could not stop smiling after winning the SEA Games gold in the 200m. And while she danced in front of the cheering crowd with the Singapore flag draped over her shoulders, her coach, Margaret Oh could not hold back the tears.
Pereira had secured Singapore's first sprinting gold medal since 1973, a night after winning an unexpected bronze in the 100m and just a few hours after breaking her own national record in the 200m heats in the morning.
The 18-year-old Pereira has long been identified as a talent to be nurtured and it has been her coach Oh who was given the task of turning her undoubted potential into a medal-winning performance.
The only problem was that the Philippines possessed the sprinter most observers expected to be the fastest on the track in Kayla Richardson.
But Pereira burst out of the turn at blistering speed, leaving the field behind as she won by more than a second with a time of 23.60 seconds.
“It feels amazing.” panted Pereira at the finish line. “I didn’t know I was going to win. I can’t describe how I feel like now. I hoped for a medal….a medal, but a gold?”
But Pereira knew after her run in the heats that she still had a little more to give and her bronze in Tuesday’s 100m dash gave her the self-belief she needed.
“It’s amazing to break the national record twice in a day but I knew in the heats that I slowed down a bit so I felt I could improve on that time. The bronze inspired me a lot though, it was the main reason that I felt so confident today,” she said.
For Oh, who was a SEA Games sprinter herself before beginning her coaching career, it was a very special moment.
“I’m so happy - very happy that someone was able to achieve what I have not done,” she said, wiping away the tears from her eyes.
“I am feeling emotional because these last few months have not been easy with coaching and everything - the result helped today. It makes it all worth it,” she said.
It was also rewarding that the sprinter paid heed to the wise advice she received from her coach.
“She trained to peak at this period. For her 200m, she doesn’t need to correct her start. She is very confident in the 200m and her start is fantastic. I just asked her to focus on not hitting the curve too hard because, in the Taiwan Open she got jammed at the curve.
“I told her the same thing again. It was perfect how she handled the curve and she ran very perfectly today,” she said.
The hours of work and preparation involved in preparing a sprinter for competition can take a toll on some relationships but Oh said it was a pleasure to work with Pereira.
“She is quite easy to coach, at times she is throwing a tantrum, as teenagers do but that’s normal. She is very focused all the time, listens to instruction and she is a very disciplined athlete. She knows if she needs to sleep early - and then she will sleep,” she said.
Clearly she had a good night’s sleep before this race and as she smiled to the camera before the start, making a heart-shape with her hands around the Singapore flag on her vest, it was evident she was composed as well as motivated.
“I didn’t want to be stressed over getting a medal because I knew that if I was then I wouldn’t run as well. The best thing to do was just to hope for the very, very best and I did, I was able to focus and execute my race properly,” she said.