In 11.27 seconds, so much can happen. Magic can be fashioned. Vindication found. Talent proved. And history written into a book with spike marks. In 11.27 seconds, a human can shrug off nerves on a cool evening and quicken a national heartbeat.
You didn’t watch her? Oh, what you missed.
After her 11.27 seconds at the Asian Games, everything felt giddy. Her grin wouldn’t end. He was trying not to cry. Her race was across a 100 tense metres, but how far and fast they’d come together was beyond measure. Silver was won by Shanti Pereira’s driving feet, but enabled by Luis Cunha’s attention to detail.
At one point as she spoke to the media at the mixed zone, he arrived, and the crowd parted and they hugged. Everything had come together. “I know,” he said, “she is able to run this time. But this was the right time (to do it) and the right place. The pressure was very high.” Sport, after all, doesn’t care what you did last season or last week. It asks for your best now and she found it.
In 11.27 seconds, you wipe out all the agony of the past. Five years ago at these same Games, Pereira didn’t even make the semi-finals in Jakarta and timed 12.01sec. Now she’s adorned in silver and this medal is so many things including audacious. Four of the finalists had better personal bests than her.
Before the 11.27 seconds was run, a stadium stills a little. The anticipation of explosion will do that. The hammer throwers, bless them, were done and the pole vaulters had come down to earth. Pereira bounced in Lane 2, she slapped her legs, she adjusted her blocks. The stadium went dark for the introductions, only the athletes illuminated, as if such a contest required further drama.
The 100m is a life of learning compressed into a detonation. It starts with a gun and has involved people named after bullets (Jesse Owens was called The Buckeye Bullet). The best starters take off like a stone released from a catapult, but that is not Pereira’s strength. She was the sixth-fastest off the blocks – 0.174sec reaction time – but Cunha was pleased. “Her starting in the past days has not been good,” but when it mattered, he said, she did just fine.
The 11.27 seconds was just 0.07sec off her best time but this was not a night of times but medals. A night not of being faster than she’d ever been, just faster than almost everyone else. A night of wearing pressure, using just enough emotion and remembering mechanics. And a night when her father, Clarence, who arrived in Hangzhou with two hats, wore his white one. The lucky one.
The 11.27 seconds to silver is more difficult than you might think. In the morning I noticed the floor of the local train I was on in Hangzhou had been painted to resemble a three-lane track. Everywhere, we’re transfixed by the idea of humans and speed.
The truth is the 100m is among the hardest medals to win, for the urge to go fast is a human instinct. Even before they play football – the world’s most popular game – the first thing kids will do is run. It is the most democratic sporting activity of our species and what it means is this: There are a lot of people trying to go fast out there. And thus a lot of fast people to beat.
Once the 11.27 seconds were over, her hands covered her face. Relief, perhaps. Disbelief, maybe. Pride, deservedly. The 100m wasn’t even her primary event once, but she’s run so well in 2023 she has made us think it could be. The promise of it all has been enjoyable. The anticipation has been a thrill. The result has been a gift.
All year she’s taken us for a ride and we’re grateful. All year she’s reminded us that stagnant careers can come to accelerated life. All year she’s gone faster than we thought and taken Singapore further than we imagined. To double gold at the SEA Games, to two golds at the Asian Championships and now a silver here. Maybe she’ll need a bigger trophy room.
In the stadium a flame flickered and now you know there’s one within Pereira, too. Something burning behind that smile. At 27, she is extraordinary because she has made overcoming her anthem. She has survived hard days and slow days. She’s risen above her own doubt and sliced fractions from her times with spikes sharp with purpose.
She has, in 11.27 sublime seconds on a heavenly Hangzhou night, made us remember the pure joy of going fast.