By LIM TEIK HUAT
PETALING JAYA: Cyclist Azizul Hasni Awang stood tall among the giants of track sprinting after bagging a World Championships silver medal in keirin at the Ballerup Super Arena in Copenhagen on Thursday night.
The 22-year-old had already created a piece of sporting history for the country when he became the first-ever Malaysian to qualify for the top-six final but he took his amazing run one step further by keeping pace with reigning Olympic champion Chris Hoy and defending champion Maximilian Levy of Germany at the front.
Hoy, 12 years older than Azizul and a triple gold medallist at the Beijing Olympics, needed to draw on his experience to secure Britain’s first gold medal in the world meet with a late surge at the finish line.
Azizul pushed hard throughout the eight-lap race and was rewarded when he nudged ahead of Levy for a prized silver.
It was a strong line-up for the final with last year’s silver and bronze medallists – Dutchman Teun Mulder and Frenchman Francois Pervis – finishing fourth and fifth respectively. New Zealand’s Sam Webster rounded up the field.
Azizul reached the final after finishing second behind Hoy in his second round heat, which also comprised Webster, Shane Perkins of Australia, Michael Seidenbecher of Germany and Asai Kota of Japan.
The top three from the two second round heats advanced to the final.
Azizul started strongly in the first round by winning a seven-man heat that included Mulder, Seidenbecher, Greece’s Christos Volkakis, Simon Van Velthooven of New Zealand, Adam Ptacnik of the Czech Republic and Kazunari Watanabe of Japan.
Malaysia’s other entry, Josiah Ng, was disqualified from his heat for obstructing Hoy.
The re-start saw Hoy coming in first ahead of Perkins as automatic qualifiers for the second round.
Having narrowly missed out on last year’s final after finishing fourth in the second round heat, Azizul was determined not to fall behind this time.
“I made my move early to jostle for the front positions. It was a delight to be racing with Hoy, who was already competing before I even took up cycling,” said the delighted Azizul, a World Cup winner from Copenhagen, yesterday.
“This silver medal is my second after taking my first in the 200m sprint in Poland last year and it means a lot as I wanted to prove my commitment is still the same although I am now married.”
Azizul will start the 200m sprint with renewed confidence and, together with Josiah, will be looking to make it past the qualifying rounds.