PETALING JAYA: Track cyclist Azizul Hasni Awang’s bid to make history in his Commonwealth Games debut in New Delhi has received an unexpected lift with four-time Olympic champion Chris Hoy deciding not to ride for Scotland.
The reigning keirin world champion announced recently that he had to give up the chance to ride in the Games scheduled for Oct 3-14 because it clashed with his preparations for the European championships in November.
The European championships will count towards qualification for the 2012 London Olympics and Hoy felt it would be hard on him to bring out his best form if he competed in both the championships held so close to each other.
Hoy’s decision is understandable as the 34-year-old wants to defend the three gold medals he won for Britain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in front of his home crowd and does not want to miss out with the stricter qualification process.
Hoy had competed under the Scottish flag at the Commonwealth Games and he was part of the winning team sprint trio in Melbourne in 2006.
The absence of the track cycling superstar will be a big blow to the New Delhi organisers but a boost to Malaysia’s chances of making a big breakthrough in the Commonwealth Games.
The 22-year-old Azizul made history as the first Malaysian to qualify for the keirin final at the world championships in Copenhagen in March but his bid to take it one step further was dashed when he was beaten by Hoy to the gold medal by the tip of a wheel.
Malaysia have never won a Commonwealth Games track cycling medal and Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) deputy president, Datuk Naim Mohamad, feels that the time is right for the cyclists to strive to end the drought.
“We had better preparations compared to the last Games in Melbourne when our cyclists had just set up base there,” he said.
“Now with Hoy deciding not to take part, Azizul’s chances of getting on the podium in the individual sprint and keirin will be brighter.
“Hoy is the only cyclist Azizul has yet to beat. Knowing Azizul’s determination, I’m sure he will try to go for the gold if the chances come his way.
“But we do not want to put too much pressure on the cyclists and we are looking at two medals of any colour at the New Delhi Games.”
Naim added that the absence of Hoy still did not weaken the strength of the sprinting field.
“There are still top British riders in Beijing Olympics sprint silver medallist Jason Kenny and Matthew Crampton. Australian Shane Perkins, who won the sprint silver medal at the world championships, and team-mate Jason Niblett will also be there. It will still be a tough fight for medals,” he said.
A country can field two riders in each event at the Commonwealth Games and the Malaysian squad are expected to be finalised before August.
Azizul is an automatic choice and the fight for the second slot for individual sprint and keirin should be among Josiah Ng, Mohd Edrus Yunus and Hafiz Sufian