The ignition sequence of Shanti Pereira begins with a grain of rubber.
On a running track at the Singapore Sports School, which is her alma mater, that’s all she focuses on as she looks down. One single granule. The afternoon June sun is high in the sky and she is crouched low on the starting blocks. Her head is empty, her body is taut, an instrument of speed clothed in Nike black.
Her coach Luis Cunha calls “set” and she rises and pauses. There’s something hypnotic to this stillness which precedes explosion. Think of it as the human equivalent of a cocked gun.
What do you think at the start?
“Nothing,” she says. “I just listen for the gun.”
Her place of work today is 100m long – often it is 200m – and 1.2m wide. A bit like hurtling through a tunnel. Most athletes work in minutes, her world is encapsulated in the seconds it takes you to read this paragraph. They can afford mistakes, she is not allowed any.
Are you a good starter, I ask her.
“I am better,” she says. “I am not bad.”
Still in New Zealand earlier in 2023, she “panicked” after a very good start. Panicked, I ask? “I was surprised, lah.” When hard work and change actually translate into a moment of excellence, it’s both startling and delightful.
I just listen for the gun.Shanti Pereira says that before the start she thinks of nothing else.
She and Cunha have forged a partnership built on sweat, trust, faith, science and smiles. He’s always her coach, always checking, investigating, correcting. Even today, which is not a practice day, he’s at work, adjusting her foot on the blocks or correcting the position of her hand during flight. Perfection is an all-day, everyday obsession....