Not since 1973 has Singapore witnessed a local athlete win a sprint event in the SEA Games.
Eng Chiew Guay and Glory Barnabas’ triumphs in the 100m and 200m respectively on home soil in the then-SEAP Games was followed by a long drought - but that ended on Wednesday evening.
Shanti Pereira stormed to victory in the women’s 200m and into history to end a 42-year wait for gold, clocking 23.60s to set a new national record.
The time, 0.3s off the Games record, was also the second time she rewrote her own national mark, having broken it in the morning’s heats.
Singapore’s newest sprint queen, who also won a 100m bronze the day before, was at a loss for words to describe her triumph as she radiated sheer delight.
“This feels so amazing, I'm so happy!” said Pereira, still a little breathless from her momentous run. “I didn’t know I was going to win, but I did. I can’t describe how I feel right now.
“My goal was a medal. I knew who I was racing against and I had a better chance in the 200m than the 100m… [but] I did not expect a gold, I definitely did not!”
It was the sort of victory that could galvanise a nation’s sprint scene. Up against the Philippines’ Kayla Anise Richardson, the fastest qualifier in 23.67s, Pereira pulled away after the second bend and held off her closest competitor.
“My game-plan was just to have a really good start and to not go so fast on the first curve… keep up with the person next to me and hopefully have more energy at the end,” she recalled.
“I was a bit scared because the Malaysia girl (Zaitadul Zulkifli) seemed to be getting a little ahead of me, so I got a bit scared and I started to chiong (run faster) and it really worked!”
Historic run for Dipna in hurdles
Fellow runner Dipna Lim-Prasad also created history when she won Singapore’ second-ever medal in the women’s 400m hurdles at the Games.
The lithe hurdler, who turned 24 on Sunday, followed up on her 2013 bronze by clocking a new national record of 59.24s to nab silver, despite not being in top form.
“I’ve been injured for two-and-a-half months so in the past two and a half months, I’ve only hurdled six times, including this race,” she explained.
“Naturally that was something not very good coming into a major meet and my preparation wasn’t ideal, but this is once in a lifetime running on home ground and at the National Stadium, so I just gave it my all and I am glad it paid off.”
Lim-Prasad was in third place going into the bend, but produced a strong finish to come in ahead of defending champion Wassana Winatho of Thailand. Vietnam’s Nguyen Thi Huyen took gold in a Games-record time of 56.15s.
She also dedicated her medal to all the athletes who tread the “more unorthodox” path in track and field, including former promising national hurdler Zaki Sapari, who was involved in a fatal accident last year.
“Naturally, it was a bit stressful being on home ground and expecting to do well not only for our country, but for everyone out there including Zaki, our 400m hurdler who really wanted to run here at the SEA Games, but unfortunately passed away,” she reflected.
“So I think it was sort of a run for everyone who wants to walk a path that is not very common and a bit more unorthodox and even though the odds aren’t really in your favour, you just want to run your best.”
Shot put gold and personal bests
Zhang Guirong won Singapore’s third athletics gold this Games in the women’s shot put, retaining her title with a season-best 14.60m.
While other local athletes did not make the podium in the rest of the day’s events, Eugenia Tan, 19, shattered her own women’s long jump record by 0.24m with a new mark of 6.18m.
There were also new personal bests for Lance Tan (men’s decathlon, 4922 points), Melvin Wong (men’s 10km, 32:59.10), Raymond Scott Lee (54.00s) and Ow Yeong Yu Xiang (54.09s) in the men’s 400m hurdles, Nicole Ann Isabella Liaw (women’s 800m, 2:22.27), Tay Yong Sheng (men’s shot put, 12.55m), Genis Phoa (women’s javelin, 40.15m).