ABU DHABI:She may have crossed the finish line in last position but it was 15-year-old Nurshalini Sahnef who stood proudly atop the highest rung of the podium as Team Singapore claimed its first gold of the Special Olympics on Saturday (Mar 16).
Competing in the F2 division of the 200m sprint, Nurshalini clocked a personal best timing of 42.53 seconds, but initially finished in fifth out of as many competitors.
"Shalini started nicely but the athletes from other countries were even faster than her," said her coach Mdm Tamil Selvi. "When I saw the official result, it was stated three countries' athletes were disqualified because of the Maximum Effort Rule, and one other athlete due to a technical fault (false start)."
The Special Olympic World Games, held from Mar 14-21, is a meet for athletes with intellectual disabilities. At the Special Olympics, athletes are separated into different divisions based on factors such as their age, gender and ability.
To ensure a fair divisioning process, athletes are expected to put in maximum effort when competing in all trials and finals.
The Maximum Effort Rule ensures that there is no more than a particular percentage difference (usually 15 per cent) in performance between an athlete’s seeding time or score and their final performance.
If an athlete exceeds their seeding performance by more than the percentage set for that specific event, they will be subjected to disqualification.
"I am very very happy for winning a first gold medal for Singapore but I was confused about the whole situation as I had came in fifth," said Shalini. "It was very tense and very tiring because it's not easy to compete with others from different countries and because it's also my first World Summer Games."
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Singapore’s athletics contingent consists of 10 athletes, who will be competing in six different events over the course of the Special Olympics.
Siti Nurhayati Ali Aksar Khan added to Singapore's overall tally later in the day with a bronze in the 200m F12 category.
"I am very happy to get bronze because I broke my own personal record and also proud that I competed with tough competitors," said the 16-year-old who clocked a personal best of 32.42 seconds.
"I am not able to express my feelings in words, you need to be here to feel the experience," added Mdm Selvi. "I am very proud of my athletes. They made Singapore proud."