Athletics: Sprinter Shanti Pereira bound for the Tokyo Olympics on wild card

SINGAPORE – Veronica Shanti Pereira will be the Republic’s sole representative in track and field at the July 23-Aug 8 Olympics, Singapore Athletics (SA) announced on Friday (July 2).

Pereira, who holds the national records in the women’s 100m and 200m, is Tokyo-bound after the sport’s governing body, World Athletics (WA), rubber-stamped her universality place at the Games.

WA’s Olympic qualification system states that National Olympic Committees with no male or female qualified athlete or relay team will be allowed to enter their best ranked male athlete or their best ranked female athlete in one event, with the exception of the 10,000m, 3,000m steeplechase and combined events such as the decathlon.

Pereira, 24, will compete in the women’s 200m in Tokyo. Her national record of 23.60 seconds was set at the 2015 SEA Games, when she clinched the Republic’s first sprint gold at the regional biennial meet in 42 years.

SA said in a media statement that Pereira “was selected as the nominated universality entry in accordance with (SA’s) selection criteria”. On its website, it stated that athletes’ performances were ranked using percentile under WA’s scoring table.

Pereira, who completed her studies at Singapore Management University in April, told The Straits Times she was thrilled at the prospect of competing on sport’s biggest stage.

“It’s something that I was working and training towards, but I still cannot really believe it,” she said. “I didn’t get to go in 2016, so I held on to my expectations a bit this time round. But when I started doing things like collecting my Team Singapore attire (for Tokyo), things got more real.”

Pereira had been a front runner for the women’s universality place for the 2016 Rio Games, but marathoner Neo Jie Shi qualified for the Games on merit after finishing among the top 10 women at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon in 2015. Instead, sprinter Timothee Yap went as a male universality representative, and raced in the 100m.

Pereira said she has not set herself a target to hit in Tokyo, given the Olympics will be her first high-level race in the 200m since the 2019 SEA Games in the Philippines, where she won a bronze in 23.77sec. Instead, she is keen to simply continue the progress she has made under coach Luis Cunha, whom she started working with in January 2020.

“I’m not thinking about (expectations) that much… Last year we almost did not get to compete at all, so I’m just focusing on training and hoping to perform, whatever race it is,” said Pereira.

Cunha, 56, is a former Olympian who represented Portugal at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Games in various sprint events.

He said it was difficult to set a target or expectation on how Pereira could perform, given the lack of tune-up competitions before the Olympics. But he added he was certain she would gain positives from rubbing shoulders with the world’s top athletes.

“I hope she can benefit from the experience of being an Olympian, and this can be in a lot of ways,” said Cunha.

“The idea is not just to perform well (with higher-quality competition), but also benefit from being in the environment of an Olympic Games.

“These last two years were very (unusual) seasons because of Covid… She wants to perform well, I want her to perform well too, but more than that, our wish is to see improvement throughout the whole process, in training as well as competitions.”

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