Olympics: Inked and on track, sprinter Shanti Pereira looks for another positive step in Tokyo

SINGAPORE – The fastest woman in Singapore over 200 metres happens to be pretty quick at getting new ink too. Veronica Shanti Pereira got her first tattoo in July 2020 and in the 12 months since, has added another five.

The first was a lightning bolt on her left Achilles, which represents her relationship with track and field. Her fifth, which is on the left side of her torso, also has a poignant meaning.

It features four symbols – an upside down triangle, VII, a triangle, VIII – and stands for: Fall down seven times, get up eight.

“I got this one because I feel it’s representative of what a lot of people go through in life, not just for me in sport,” Pereira told The Straits Times in an interview recently.

As the 24-year-old prepares to take her spikes to the Tokyo Olympics, that tattoo also serves as a reminder of the resilience she has had to demonstrate over the years to stay on track for the opportunity.

Pereira will represent the Republic at the Tokyo Games on a universality place, previously known as a wild card. It is issued by World Athletics to nations that do not have any male or female athlete that qualifies on merit.

Pereira holds the national records in the women’s 100m (11.58 sec) and 200m (23.60sec), and will race in the latter event in Tokyo.

It has been a long wait for a chance to race on sport’s biggest stage for the sprinter, who first shot to fame in 2013 when, a month shy of turning 17, she became the first Singaporean woman to run the 100m under 12 seconds.

Since then, she has enjoyed highs – winning a historic gold in the 200m at the 2015 home SEA Games – and also suffered lows, such as a tearful and unsuccessful defence of her title in Kuala Lumpur in 2017, before a season-ruining injury a year later.

Reflecting on her path to Tokyo, Pereira said: “I’m not going to lie, it’s a hard pill to swallow for athletes to accept that it’s a journey, and one that has its ups and downs.

“Some (downs) you can explain – like injuries – but other things you can’t really… You don’t really know what’s going to happen at which point in time.

“A lot of (managing) it has to do with me being in control, and being able to accept and understand it, and enjoy the process no matter what.”

Like the ink on her torso suggests, though, Pereira will not stay down for long and she is now on the up.

After rewriting her 100m record in 2019, she then co-wrote a kid’s book, titled Go Shanti Go, a year later which commemorated her SEA Games triumph.

She believes she is in a “better place” now, and hopes to continue her upward trajectory in Tokyo.

In 2013, Shanti Pereira became the first Singaporean woman to run the 100m under 12 seconds.. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

There, she will be one of four athletes in the 200m field of 56 that are on a universality place. The others are Najma Parveen (Pakistan), Lucia Moris (South Sudan) and 2019 SEA Games champion Kristina Knott (Philippines).

The Singapore Sports School alumnus is not hung up over placings or even her timing in Tokyo.

Her main target is simply to take another step forward in her “long-term” goal with new coach Luis Cunha – the Portuguese began coaching Pereira in January 2020 – to lower both her 100m and 200m national records.

Luis Cunha (right) began coaching Shanti Pereira in January 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The Olympics are a good chance to do that given the level of competition, said Pereira, but ultimately they are “just part of the plan”.

When asked if she felt she still had more of herself to give to track, even after eight years of toil at the top, she was bullish.

“Yeah, I do,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot more in me, and I think my coach and I have a lot of work that we can do, still, to take me as far as I can.”

A run in Tokyo that she can be proud of would be another step forward in Pereira’s undulating sporting journey. It might even be an inspiration for another tattoo.

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