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After 47 races in 2023, Shanti Pereira’s most important sprints of the season lie ahead

Shanti Pereira hugging her parents Clarence and Jeet Pereira after arriving at Changi Airport on Friday. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE – The 2023 season has seen Shanti Pereira set not just records involving medals and times, but also the number of races she has completed in a season – 47.

But the 26-year-old is not running out of steam just yet, with the most important sprints of the year lying ahead at the Sept 23-Oct 8 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.

Speaking to the media at Changi Airport on Friday after returning from a six-week European stint, Pereira was surprised when told that she had competed in 47 races this year already.

“Is it? I didn’t know that,” she said, noting that coming into 2023, she and coach Luis Cunha knew it would be a long season and they had a plan for it.

“It is the most races I have ever done (in a year),” she added. “That’s how the circuits are in Europe, where you try to compete as much as you can. It also acts as training races for me and... races are very taxing on your body.

“Every time I race, I make sure I fully rest and recover and do it all over again. We laid the foundations earlier in the year to prepare for these back-to-back competitions.”

Welcoming her at the airport were Singapore Athletics officials and her parents, father Clarence Pereira and mother Jeet Pereira, who shared an emotional embrace with her.

There were also some fans present. One of them, Rebecca Wan, 45, requested an autograph and a message from Pereira for her 10-year-old daughter Sophie Lock, who idolises the sprint queen. 

Since February, Pereira has competed in 16 meets and 43 individual races – which include heats, semi-finals and finals – in New Zealand, Australia, Asia and Europe. She also participated in four relays.

Pereira will spend the next fortnight in Singapore before leaving for the Asiad, where she will start as the favourite for both the 100m and 200m. Her personal bests are 11.20 and 22.57 respectively, which are the fastest times in Asia for both distances this season.

Pereira’s coach Luis Cunha, who is on a short break back in Portugal before returning to Singapore, said that packing the calendar with races was something they had planned to prepare Pereira for a “special season”.

Noting that there were several major competitions in 2023, Cunha said there was always a risk of burnout. But Pereira has stayed fit and in form by following closely to her recovery plan, which includes ice baths, proper sleep routines, meditation, yoga and pilates.

Cunha, who shared that there is likely to be only a 12-hour turnaround between the 100m final and the 200m heats in Hangzhou, said: “It is going to be very difficult for the athletes. But Shanti is going to be very prepared for the scenario because she is used to this kind of situation where she has raced back to back, and in a few races in the span of a few days.”

Looking ahead, he said: “We have tried our best to ensure there was no burnout and now there is one last major competition to go for the year. I am confident that if she is able to maintain her level and improve a few things, especially in the 100m, she will be in medal contention.”

While in Europe, Pereira created history for herself and Singapore, when she sealed qualification for the Paris Olympics and became the first Singaporean to reach the semi-finals of the World Athletics Championships.

Since March, she has rewritten her 100m national mark six times and the 200m record four times.

Gold medals have also arrived along with the fast timings. In July, she won a historic 100-200m sprint double at the Asian Championships in Bangkok, just two months after doing so at the Cambodia SEA Games.

There is, however, room for more in her medal cabinet, hopefully from Hangzhou.