Saturday, November 22, 2008

Youngster Azizul creates history with World Cup victory

By LIM TEIK HUAT (Source THE STAR 22/November/2008)
Youngster Azizul Hasni Awang made history when he won the main keirin final in the second-leg of the UCI Track World Cup in Melbourne last night to become the first-ever Malay­sian gold medallist at the World Cup stage.
Incredibly, it was the first time the 20-year-old was riding in the keirin event at the World Cup stage. That, however, did not stop Azizul from beating the likes of Andriy Vynokourov of Ukraine and Pervis Francois of France into second and third placings respectively.
“This win is for Malaysia as much as I wanted it for myself. I was looking for a medal finish in the Olympics but my lack of experience was my undoing in the final. But this tops it all, my first attempt in the keirin at the World Cup and I won it. I’m so happy,” said Azizul in a telephone interview from Melbourne.
The field for the top-six final also comprised former world junior champions Shane Perkins of Australia and Greek Christos Volikakis, who was later relegated to last spot for not holding his line during the final sprint.
Azizul, dubbed the Malaysian Pocket Rocket, had been unstoppable en route to qualifying for his first World Cup final. He won the first round and secured his place in the main final after coming out tops in the second round.
Azizul’s triumph is certainly a breakthrough performance as far as Malaysian track cycling is concerned as not even Josiah Ng ever made it to the top of the rostrum at the peak of his career.
Josiah came close to winning on a few occasions en route to a total of eight World Cup medals and Azizul can certainly hold his head high as he dashed Australia’s hopes of seeing their local riders win the most sought after title.
Although Azizul was rated an outsider, he had already sounded his intentions with a two-gold feat in the Asian Championships in Japan in April.
He went on to make his Olympic debut in Beijing in August and was the only Asian rider to qualify for the quarter-finals of the 200m sprint after finishing ninth in the keirin.
Only one rider from each country can enter for keirin and Malaysian track coach John Beasley said Azizul’s performance was beyond expectations.
“He just rode beautifully today. It (the win) was unexpected as we had just got started on our training regime not too long ago,” said the Australian.
Azizul has a chance to give the country more glory when he competes in the 200m sprint with Josiah today.
Malaysia did not compete in the opening round of the five-leg World Cup in Manchester last month because the track squad had just resumed training after a lengthy break following the Olympics.

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