The 26-year-old Singaporean finished second with a new personal best timing and national record of 54.18 seconds.
Each runner in last night’s SEA Games women’s 400m event was racing against five other competitors, but Dipna Lim-Prasad had two more – herself, and the 43-year-old national record that she had been trying to break all year.
The 26-year-old Singaporean may have been the second runner to cross the finish line at Bukit Jalil National Stadium, but her 54.18-second effort was enough to defeat her latter two “competitors” as it was a new personal best and national record.
The previous national mark of 55.08sec, held by Chee Swee Lee, was set at the 1974 Asian Games in Iran and was the oldest standing women’s national athletics record.
Said a delighted Lim-Prasad, who two months ago posted 55.10sec en route to winning the 400m at the Thailand Open: “I’ve been trying (to break the national record) this whole year and at the Thailand Open I missed it by 0.02sec and it was so close.”
She had been confident of setting a new national mark at last month’s Malaysia Open, but her plans were derailed by a virus which led to her pulling out of the meet. “That was very disappointing,” she said.
Still, the significance of her achievement last night took some time to sink in. Even as her husband, former national sprinter Poh Seng Song, shouted to her from the stands that she had set a new national mark, Lim-Prasad did not register his words immediately.
Grinning, she added: “It was 54.18sec, which is massive, so I’m really happy.”
Her medal was Singapore’s first in the 400m at the Games since 1975 when Chee won the title and Cheah Kim Teck took the men’s silver.
Weighing the significance of both medal and timing, Lim-Prasad said: “For sure the medal made it more special, but the timing is the most objective thing.
“If I ran a really slow time and still won silver, it wouldn’t mean as much … This one I know it’s by merit and it’s a solid time, so it’s like confirmation that I’m getting better as an athlete.”
And Lim-Prasad, who retained her 400m hurdles silver on Tuesday, aims to keep getting better.
“Because I’m so close to 54sec flat, I guess (I hope) to go under 54sec, and then 53sec … and the next milestone is 52sec and what’s after that is the Olympic qualifying standard, so hopefully I’m getting there slowly but surely – we’ll see,” she said.
“Hopefully my coach (Portuguese Luis Cunha) stays in Singapore. His contract is ending at the end of this year and under Luis I’ve improved so much not just in running but also in mindset, so I hope he stays.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2017, with the headline ‘National record is more important than medal: Dipna’.