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Sazali Abdul Aziz
The New Paper
July 17, 2016
Just over three years ago, Veronica Shanti Pereira made history by becoming the first Singaporean woman to go under 12 seconds in the 100 metres.
Then a month shy of turning 17, the sprinter clocked 11.89sec at the IAAF World Youth Athletics Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine, smashing the national record of 12.01 set by Amanda Choo in 2010.
This week, we could see the second local woman to clock a sub-12 in the century sprint.
This morning, C Kugapriya, 18, left for Bydgoszcz, Poland, for the IAAF World Under-20 championships from Tuesday to Sunday.
Priya, who will be Singapore's sole representative, will run in the heats on Wednesday, and the semi-finals and final on Thursday, if she makes it.
Her coach, Margaret Oh, believes Priya, as friends call her, has what it takes to emulate Shanti, her training partner.
"All along, she's been quite matured, even when she first started under me (aged 13)," said Oh, who also coaches Shanti.
"She has a mind of her own, she knows what she needs, to get what she wants.
"She's getting stronger in terms of physique, and I think she can clock a sub-12 in Poland."
Priya has lowered her personal best in the 100m twice this year.
She first slashed her time from 12.38sec to 12.19 at the Singapore Open in April, then lowered it again to 12.09 at the Thailand Open in Bangkok earlier this month.
Not bad for someone who only took up the sport because of "peer pressure" after a group of close friends in Rivervale Primary School joined its track and field team.
Priya admitted with a sheepish smile that she was so disinterested in the sport that she threw away the namecard of Singapore Sports School track and field general manager Jenny Lim, when the latter handed it to her.
But Lim met Priya's mother, Punitha Saminathan, who was keen to see how far her daughter could go in sport, and she eventually joined the Sports School.
Priya's talent on the track was immediately obvious, as she twice emerged the multi-event (100m hurdles, 800m, medley relay, long jump, high jump, and shot put) champion at a competition organised by Malaysia's Bukit Jalil Sports School, when she was in Secondary One and Two.
But the teenager still didn't enjoy herself.
"I realised the Sport School was good for me only in Secondary Three," said Priya.
"In Secondary One and Two, I was still immature, I wasn't used to being at a boarding school like the Sport School, and training every day. So it was quite hard to adapt.
"But, in Secondary Three, I started being more mature... Plus, I started seeing the results in terms of better times."
Her potential has not gone unnoticed.
In May, she was one of 308 recipients of the Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim Scholarship, which disburses a monetary boost to fuel the sporting dreams of young athletes.
ITE College West student Priya, said training with Shanti - who has since lowered her national record to 11.80 - gives her an extra boost.
"There's definitely good competition between us," she said. "Usually in training, I try to keep up with her, which sort of pushes her, too."
Said Shanti: "We're very close. We pretty much always encourage each other as much as we can, to go further in track."
Added Oh: "They push each other. Priya wants to catch Shanti and Shanti doesn't want to be caught. It's going to improve both their times, so it can only be good for local athletics."