Credit: The Straits Times

Clarence and Jeet Pereira have heard unsavoury terms, such as “a has-been” used on Singapore sprinter Shanti Pereira in the past years. They never responded.

They knew their daughter would let her legs do the talking eventually.

On Friday, Shanti’s history-making success was deafening as the 26-year-old claimed gold in the women’s 100m to become the first Singaporean woman to complete the sprint double at the biennial event. On Monday, she had won her third 200m title.

At the Morodok Techo National Stadium in Phnom Penh, Clarence and Jeet – who have been in Cambodia since last Sunday – watched on and could not contain their excitement. How could they, given the journey they have been on with their daughter?

Clarence, 66, told The Straits Times that he and his wife have heard, sometimes directly, the criticism levelled at their daughter.

Shanti herself has previously highlighted that she struggled with self-doubt while dealing with defeat – she did not retain her 200m title at the 2017 Games.

Clarence said: “The past few years, we felt the negativity. I would not like to mention names. It came from the public, the people in the local athletics circle who knew her well.

“Even I heard it directly. I just nodded my head and not say anything. Let the legs do the talking.”

Jeet added: “The most important thing is that she did not quit. She did not give up. Whatever that was said about her, her style or training methods, she kept going and she said she will persevere and continue.

“We were always there to support her no matter where the journey was going to take her. We prayed it will turn around.”

Family backing has helped tremendously. Clarence said Shanti’s siblings – older sisters Valerie and Shobi and elder brother Anand – have been her strong pillars of support.

The family had to rally around her at various moments. One was when she was omitted from the Sport Excellence (Spex) Scholarship programme. Shanti was a Spex scholar between 2016 and 2018, but was not included in the scheme again till November, after a sensational 200m win at the Hanoi SEA Games.

“She lost the scholarship. It was hard. What can we do except to console her? She had fantastic support from her sisters and brother,” said Clarence.

Jeet said they knew their daughter was dealing with turmoil when they noticed a change in her mood after a training session in 2022.

She said: “You could feel something was bothering her. Usually I don’t question her.

“When she is ready to speak , she shares with us. She talked to us eventually about things not going well with her.

“This pattern repeated for the longest time.”

And then the catalyst arrived in Vietnam. “When she went to Hanoi, I told her to enjoy the race. Leave behind whatever people have said. We have to pick it up and learn, use it the right way and improve ourselves,” added Jeet, who now has the perfect Mother’s Day present in advance.

After the race, as Shanti went over to the stands to hug her, Jeet could not control her emotions.

The 63-year-old childcare educator said: “I saw her tearing up as she hugged me and I lost it too. We cried together.

“I am just very proud that she has achieved what she set out to do. She has really progressed and worked so hard towards this.”

While there is jubilation at the end of the day, Jeet said the emotions in the build-up to the races can be nerve-racking and she goes through “a lot of anxiety” throughout the day before Shanti takes to the track.

Looking ahead, dad wants Shanti to aim even higher. He believes his daughter can achieve her next targets of qualifying for the Olympics on merit and doing a personal best at the Asian Games.

Naysayers who doubt Shanti can achieve those goals can feel free to speak their minds. Her parents have heard it all.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.