Sports

Sprint queen Pereira runs into relay hurdle with S’pore Athletics

Sprint queen Pereira runs into relay hurdle with S’pore Athletics
Shanti Pereira. Photo: Wee Teck Hian
Published: 4:00 AM, June 16, 2017

SINGAPORE — Storm clouds are gathering above Singapore track and field with just two months to the 2017 SEA Games, with a dispute between Singapore Athletics (SA) and coach Margaret Oh threatening to cost reigning 200m champion Shanti Pereira a spot in the women’s 4x100m relay team.

TODAY has learnt that Oh, who coached Pereira to a historic women’s 200m gold two years ago, has been locked in a tussle with the national sports association over the past two months over a number of issues. Both parties have clashed over the schedule for training sessions for the women’s 4x100m team, Pereira’s participation in events at local and overseas meets, as well as the location of its pre-Games centralised training camp.

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, Oh and Pereira were warned that the latter would be dropped from the SEA Games relay team if she does not join the squad for centralised training in Taiwan in July.

As Pereira is heading to India next month for the Asian Athletics Championships, TODAY understands that Oh had raised concerns that the travelling would tire out the athlete.

She had also questioned the efficacy of organising a training camp so close to the Games, and suggested that it be located here or in Kuala Lumpur, rather than in Taiwan, where the climate and weather is different from the Malaysian capital’s.

At the 2015 Games, the relay team clocked a national record of 45.41sec, but narrowly missed out on bronze to Malaysia after a photo finish decision. Pereira is the holder of the national 100m (11.80s) and 200m (23.60s) records, and her omission would be a blow to the relay team’s medal chances. The sprinter, who also won the 100m bronze at the 2015 Games, is the fastest in the quartet.

The foursome finished third at yesterday’s Thailand Open Track and Field Championships in a time of 45.65. just 0.24s off the national record and SEA Games qualifying mark.

When contacted by TODAY, Oh said that the disagreements with SA and its technical director Volker Hermann had caused much stress and distress to her and her protege.

“I told them, it’s only two months to the SEA Games, don’t do all this nonsense,” the veteran coach and former national sprinter told TODAY.

According to Oh, a member of SA’s executive committee had allegedly hinted at getting her into trouble so as to take disciplinary action against her.

The former human resources assistant added: “I quit my job to train my athletes. I’m not doing this for the money, but for the athletes and for Singapore.

“I have been crying and losing sleep over this. Why is the secretariat doing all this? I am surprised, as they are supposed to help the athletes and coaches.”

Pereira told TODAY that she is trying not to let the disagreements affect her performance on the track.

“It’s at the back of my mind during training and competitions but I block it out as I don’t want to let it affect my performance in any way,” said Pereira.

She also confirmed that she had been told by SA that she would not run the relay if she did not attend the centralised training. “The fact that there is this ultimatum, that’s not very nice,” she said.

“It’s definitely frustrating — it’s not the best position to be in as an athlete, and I hope no one has to experience it.”

When contacted by TODAY, Hermann said that the parties had met Sport Singapore last Friday, and that they are waiting for Oh and Pereira to decide if she is going to Taiwan.

“We had planned this in April and the training camp is part of the final preparation,” he said.

“The relay team has to train together, especially in the last two weeks, and that is mandatory for me. I strongly believe the training camp also has a positive influence on Shanti’s individual performance.

“It would be great if she could come for the training camp as she will make the team a bit stronger. But in the end, it’s not about individual timings, but team spirit and baton exchanges.”

Pereira is not the only Singaporean athlete to have run into issues with Singapore Athletics in recent months.

Pole vaulter Rachel Yang, who won gold in a national record height of 3.91m in Thailand this week, told TODAY that she and her coach David Yeo, who is also her husband, had requested for youth vaulter Cherlin Sia to compete in Thailand in order to qualify for the SEA Games.

However, the request was turned down by the SA a few weeks ago as Hermann had insisted that Cherlin was not fit to jump due to a previous injury. The 16-year-old was eventually granted medical clearance to compete, but did not record a height as she did not clear 3.55m.

Yang, who is a mentor and coach to the young athlete, said the fight with SA had caused her a lot of stress ahead of the meet.

“The last couple of weeks was draining and I didn’t prepare well for this meet,” she said.

“There were a lot of things that derailed us from our focus this week so this record came as a surprise.”