PETALING JAYA: Youngsters Azizul Hasni Awang, Hariff Salleh and Fatehah Mustapa have earned places in the Malaysian team for the Korat SEA Games after impressive performances in the Asian Cycling Championships in Thailand.
It will be the trio’s first SEA Games.
The 18-year-old Azizul beat off a strong field to bag the senior men’s keirin gold medal at the Hua Mak Velodrome last Thursday, upstaging his more illustrious team-mate and mentor Josiah Ng in the final.
Azizul’s feat was quite remarkable, considering that he only qualified through the repechage and he was up against Japan’s Masaki Inoue and Toshiyaki Fushimi, who were part of the Athens Olympics silver medal winning team sprint, and South Korea’s Asian Games gold medallist Kang Dong-jin.
Like Azizul, Hariff showed maturity in claiming the senior men’s 15km gold to give Malaysia a two-gold haul on Thursday. In total, Malaysia enjoyed their best outing at the senior level of the championships in 20 years with a haul of 3-2-3.
Malaysian team manager Datuk Naim Mohamad was pleased with Azizul’s exploits.
“Azizul has improved a lot since training under Australian coach John Beasley in Melbourne,” said Naim.
“We are also happy with the performance of the other younger riders like Hariff and Fatehah. They have given Malaysian cycling a new lease of life.
“We will include them for the SEA Games in December. Josiah is not competing since there is no keirin event in the SEA Games. Azizul will take part in the 200m sprint and team sprint (partnering Junaidi Nasir and Muhd Edrus Yunus).
“Azizul showed he has the speed in the Asian Championships by finishing faster than Josiah in the 200m sprint qualifying round (Azizul had qualified third with a time of 10.61 while Josiah finished fifth fastest on 10.74).
“Azizul is definitely capable of challenging for gold this time.
“Fateha, who is only 18, is another strong medal contender for Malaysia in the women’s 200m sprint, individual time trial and road race.”
With Azizul as the anchor rider, Malaysia also look good to defend the team sprint gold medal, which they won in the last SEA Games in Manila two years ago.
Edrus, Junaidi and Azizul missed out on the bronze medal in the team sprint by 0.001 of a second to Iran. Japan and Taiwan took the gold and silver respectively.
“We bagged four gold medals in the Manila SEA Games. We missed out on a fifth when Anuar Manan fell near the finish line in the criterium race,” said Naim.
“Our cyclists were ranked first among the South-East Asian riders in the individual pursuit, team pursuit and 1km time trial in the Asian Championships, so we should be expecting a better haul in Korat.”
Malaysia’s main worry is the poor form of senior women cyclists Uracca Leow and Noor Azian Alias in the track competitions.
Noor Azian, the Manila SEA Games gold medallist, grabbed a silver medal in the senior women’s 125km road race in Nakhon Ratchasima province yesterday, the last day of the championships.
Her team-mate Sulha Sulaiman crashed while trying to help Noor Azian to break away 300m from the finish line and dislocated her shoulder.
However, the senior men’s team, led by Manila Games gold medallist Suhardi Hassan, failed to finish among the medals in the 196km road race.