9th November 2008, 12:00 WST
Malaysia has a Formula One Grand Prix and a Moto GP but when it comes to generating their own speed, pedal power rather than horsepower predominates.
The south-east Asian nation’s sprint cyclists have rocketed into the world’s elite, as Australia’s Olympians learned when beaten for the first time by Malaysia at a pre-Beijing meet in Melbourne.
The local cycling community got another reminder of Malaysia’s pace prowess in last night’s Perth GP at Midvale when Mohd Azizulhasni Awang beat the Australian Cyclones’ Scott Sunderland in the sprint final.
For decades, Australia’s best riders have had to go to Europe for world-class competition on the track. Now the sprinters need go no further north than Kuala Lumpur, where former Australian junior coach John Beasley is building a potent squad.
When Kuala Lumpur hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games, the recognised cycling nations paid little attention to the slow coaches of Malaysia, who went around mainly to show the flag. A decade later, attitudes have changed significantly.
Spearheading Malaysia’s cycling revolution is Josiah Ng, who raised eyebrows when he finished fifth in the keirin in the Athens Olympic final. He subsequently made the podium at several World Cup rounds, encouraging his nation’s sports authorities to contemplate the likelihood of more kids with raw speed who could be developed into world-class competitors.
“The Government put money into a talent scouting and development program and the results have followed,” said Ng. “We’re not at the level of the best yet but the gap is closing quickly.
“We went to Beijing with the goal of making the top eight in the team sprint and we finished seventh and lowered our best by nearly a second. If we keep working to eliminate our mistakes and improve consistency, we have the ability to be top three.
“Until a few years ago I was the only Malaysian rider doing well on the international circuit. Now we’ve got some depth. In a few years’ time I’m going to battle to keep my spot in the team.”
Ng and Beasley formed a partnership in 2006 when the coach was recommended to the rider by the husband of triathlete Michelle Jones.
“He really got the program moving and the squad divides its time between Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne,” said Ng. “We’re really starting to push each other in training.”
Edrus Yunos is the third of the Malaysian sprint team and teenager Fatehah Mustapa is the best of the women prospects. She finished fourth in the Perth GP.
When it comes to the endurance events, Australia is still towards the front of the world bunch. The results at Beijing were poor but Generation Next is ready to take over, with two of the best and brightest winning State scratch race titles last night to confirm their readiness for the opening round of the World Cup, in Melbourne in 10 days’ time.
Junior world champion Josie Tomic judged her move to perfection to claim the honours in the 30-lap women’s race and Cameron Meyer controlled the 40-lap men’s race, burning off the sprinters with a sustained 500m surge for the stripe.