By Chia Jie Min
Good friends off the track and fierce rivals on it, talented teens Eugenia Tan and Shanti Pereira thrilled the crowds at the Schools National Track and Field Championships with their record-breaking displays two weeks ago.
Shanti set new meet records as she won the C Girls' 100m and 200m in 12.75sec and 26.09sec respectively.
Although Eugenia was second in both races, she also went under the existing 100m record in the final (12.81sec) and set a new 200m mark (26.30sec) in the heats.
But the two Singapore Sports School students are being tipped for bigger things on an even bigger stage - medals in the sprints at the 2017 South-east Asia (SEA) Games if they keep meeting the progressive targets that their coach Pedro Acuna has mapped out for them over the next five years.
Singapore last won medals in the women's sprints at regional level at home in the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games through Eng Chiew Guay (100m) and Glory Barnabas (200m).
Acuna, who guided U.K. Shyam to the men's national 100m record (10.37sec) in 2001, and also to a 100m silver at the SEA Games that same year, said of both 14-year-olds: 'They have the potential to make the top 20 in the world junior rankings in five years.
'If they can achieve that top-20 target, then winning a medal at the 2017 SEA Games would be a virtual certainty.'
Based on current International Association of Athletics Federation rankings, Shanti, who usually runs the 200m, must go below 24sec, while Eugenia needs to run 11.7sec in the 100m to meet the top-20 target.
Judging from their recent displays, the times, while formidable, are not beyond them.
After all, Shanti's 26.09sec is not her fastest time. She set a new national Under-15 record of 26.03sec last year, at age 13. And last month, she clocked 25.84sec at the West Australian Little Athletics (Wala) meet in Perth.
Likewise, Eugenia ran a stunning 12.23sec at Wala, faster than the national U-15 (12.74sec), U-17 (12.39sec) and U-20 (12.26sec) records.
However, the times cannot be ratified as national marks as no wind gauges were employed at the meet.
'It will be a long journey,' said Acuna, who is also wary of putting pressure on his young charges. 'But they have the talent to do it.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.