Team Singapore

Two sprint queens and the legacy of the SEA Games

While we bask in the SEA Games success, let's focus on the sports that will give us glory on bigger stages

How would you compare Glory Barnabas and Shanti Pereira?

Which 200 metres race - Glory's victory in 1973 or Shanti's triumph two Wednesdays ago - was more exciting?

And which SEA Games triumph had more impact on Singapore athletics?

Being the only still active print sports writer from the heyday of athletics and one who has witnessed both 200m races, I have often been asked these questions over the past few days.

Mulling over them, I have straight answers for the first two: Both are great champions, and the pair ran just as exciting races.

Great champions because both the affable sprinters came into their races as longshots, and pulled the carpet from under the feet of more favoured opponents.

Exciting because Glory just managed to pip Burma's Than Than at the tape with a bursting lunge while Shanti ran a perfect race - good start, right pace down the curve, and a storming finish that left her fancied rivals trailing.

However, the pair may not be alike in some ways.

Glory, a teacher, is about the same height as Shanti, but was older (32) when she won the race.

Shanti, a student, is 1.65m, much younger (18) and has greater ground speed.

THEN AND NOW

The former practised with Bata shoes on grass, but later graduated with no-brand shoes and ran at the SEAP Games with Puma spikes on a just-laid out Tartan track.

Shanti, who dons the sophisticated Asics running shoes and trains seven days a week, ran on a Mondo track.

The common denominator, though: They outperformed, and won the hearts of the 10,000 spectators.

As for the third question, I believe Shanti's victory will have a greater impact on Singapore athletics.

For it comes at a time when local athletics is floundering - some national records are longstanding - compared to the heyday of the 60s and 70s.

Glory had great local sparring partners, the likes of Eng Chiew Guay, Sheila Fernando, Heather Merican and Gan Bee Wah; Shanti has only the clock.

So Shanti's scintillating sprint has given local athletics a bigger boost.

As Team Singapore sport bask over the successes of our contingent that gave us a record haul of 259 medals - 84 of them golds - at the 28th SEA Games, we look back on a sporting spectacular that moved a nation and gave us memorable moments.

Watching swimming sensation Joseph Schooling, the nine-gold wonder, pick up autographs and caps from the floor and toss them back to the crowd in the stands, was a moment to savour.

I broke into laughter when I heard that a squash team won a bronze medal after losing both their games by 3-0 and 2-0 margins.

Friendly Games, no doubt!

I cried, then clamped up, at the pathetic display of our footballers against Indonesia in the defeat that knocked the Young Lions out of the competition.

I applaud the hockey boys for coming back from the dead and raised their game against Thailand (4-0 win), before taking on the favourites Malaysia in the final, missing out on the gold by penalties.

Mind you, Singapore scored two field goals and Malaysia banged home goals off penalty corners in the 2-2 draw in normal time.

I also commend the small Timor Leste contingent who stood up to the might of their more reputed rivals in the few events they competed in.

The final medal tally led to the story of how one of their boxers and a taekwondo exponent made the podium.

Talking about the medal table, when this paper threw a challenge to our athletes to go for a 75-gold target on April 16, 50 days before the Games began, the figure was seen as outrageous by many sports big wigs.

But we are glad that our contingent rose to the challenge, crossing that figure with two days to go.

Having kept the perch until three days before the Games ended, Thailand ran past Singapore to take top spot by 11 golds.

SOME MORE

On reflection, a clutch of silat golds, a couple more bowling triumphs, a men's hockey near-coup, and the reversals of the unexpected capitulation of women's water polo and world-class paddler Feng Tianwei might have done the trick.

Or maybe, if we had added bodybuilding to the list - as Indonesia did with wrestling in 1987 and mined a clean sweep of 20 golds - Singapore might have topped the 2015 class.

But second to Thailand, as was the case in 1973 when a late boxing gold on the eve of the closing ceremony night saw the Thais edge us to the count, is a fabulous finish.

Against a backdrop of history showing that only Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam - and probably Malaysia and the Philippines - have the size and population to top the SEA Games table, Singapore's is a phenomenal effort.

But where Singapore can really score is to use this Games as a launchpad to propel some of our worthy winners towards Asian, Commonwealth and Olympic glory.

Singapore can shine only in certain sports at such high levels; namely in swimming, table tennis, bowling, athletics, silat, sailing and water polo, and probably badminton and squash.

So while we continue to bask in the overall success of the SEA Games, let's keep the focus on these sports, and target the rest for regional glory.

I believe Shanti’s victory will have a greater impact on Singapore athletics. For it comes at a time when local athletics is floundering — some national records are longstanding — compared to the heyday of the 60s and 70s.

— TNP consulting editor Godfrey Robert, on whether Glory Barnabas’ 200m win in 1973 or Shanti Pereira’s victory on June 10 will have a greater impact on local athletics

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