Singapore’s sprint queen Shanti Pereira comes home to ‘nice, warm welcome’
On Thursday afternoon, a crowd of 70 people gathered at Changi Airport for what was no ordinary arrival.
It was the homecoming of Singapore’s Asian Games gold medalist, as sprinter Shanti Pereira returned home after an inspiring and dominant victory in Hangzhou.
Clutching notebooks, pens, flowers, garlands, posters and their mobile phones, the supporters were all eager for a photo, a wefie, an autograph from the golden girl, the history maker.
For those who were not in the know, like the travellers who came through Changi Airport T1 arrival hall, they were taken aback by the sizeable media crew and crowd that had gathered. Some were heard asking who the wait was for, to be told “the Asian Games gold medalist is arriving”.
And then she stepped into the arrival hall with a big smile on her face – and her gold and silver medals around her neck – to the cheers and applause from fans, family, friends and officials.
The champion was back. The newly crowned Asian sprint queen, who ended Singapore’s 49-year wait for a gold medal in Asiad track and field on Monday, when she won the women’s 200m gold.
For those who had caught her race at home while perched on the edge of their seats in suspense, there was nothing like seeing their idol in the flesh.
Pereira was swarmed by fans and she obliged their requests, signing autographs and posing for photos.
Speaking to the media, Shanti said: “It’s a lot! It’s really nice to see everyone really excited and a lot of my family members are here as well. It’s a nice, warm welcome back home.
“I am going to have some rest first. Rest and recovery for the rest of this month and I am back to general preparation work for the rest of the year and I will probably start the (new) season in March or April next year.”
The hope, for the athletics fraternity, is for Pereira’s achievement to leave a lasting impact on Singapore sport.
And it is why Singapore Athletics president Lien Choong Luen is hoping that come 2029 at the home SEA Games, new heroes will take a step forward in their journey to become the next Shanti Pereira.
Lien said: “Shanti and her coach Luis (Cunha) put in months of hard work, competing overseas and clocking many hours just to shave fractions of a second. This is the hard graft that all our athletes and coaches put themselves through and I hope these performances will encourage young athletes watching at home to similarly commit themselves to aiming for excellence.
Calling on schools to encourage students to take part in their annual sports days, Lien added: “2029 is just six years away, and I am making an open call to every young girl and boy that loves to run, jump, throw to join us. And for parents to support their athletic dream to go as far as they can - perhaps one day to an Asian Games medal or more.”
Echoing his call, Pereira added: “I really hope my story can somehow inspire not just track and field athletes but people from every sport who are thinking of pursuing it a bit more seriously than they are now.
“For me, I found something that I love to do quite early on and I just worked hard at it, pushed for it and I didnt give up because this is what I wanted to do. If anyone else is feeling the same way as me, I say go for it, don’t be afraid to dream big. It does not have to be a scary thing, but you have to put in hard work and sacrifice a lot of things to reach the goal and get what you want.”
With her goal of an Asian gold attained, Pereira will continue to dream big for herself, and for Singapore.