RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 17 2016 : National elite rider, Azizulhasni Awang hands Malaysia a bronze medal in the keirin event at the Rio Olympics Games here yesterday.
In the dramatic final round, the eight-lap race was restarted twice after technical infringement by the riders and in the third start, Azizulhasni pipped world champion, Joachim Eilers from Germany to finish third.
The 28-year-old Melbourne-based rider crossed the finishing line for the bronze behind defending champion Jason Kenny from Britain and Dutchman Matthijs Buchli.
Azizulhasni, who was earmarked as gold medal prospects, won the Olympic medal in his third attempt after failing to qualify for the finals in the 2008 Beijing Games and sixth placing at the 2012 London Games.
“I dedicate this medal to all Malaysians and to my wife and kids who sacrifice alot over the years,” the rider, who is known as ‘Rocket Pocket Man’ for his pint-size body.
“Although I was going for the gold, but the bronze is the result of hard work over the years and the beginning to mount for the gold in the 2020 Tokyo Games,” said the rider who leaves Rio for home tomorrow night.
In the one day-race, Azizulhasni was one of the six cyclists and only Asian to qualify for the final from the repechage rounds.
Azizulhasni started his podium campaign on a difficult note when needed to win the repechage after ending fifth out of seven cyclists in his first round heat.
In the repechage, he had former world champion Theo Bos of Holland, Canada’s Hugo Barrette and Czech Republic’s Pavel Kelemen in the first heat and won the top spot to qualify for the second round.
In the second round’s first heat, Azizulhasni finished third behind Jason and Matthijs, while Joachim, Poland’s Damian Zielnski and Colombian Fabian Hernando Puerta Zapata emerged top three in the second heat.
The top three in the two heats moved in to the final. Azizulhasni is the first cyclist for Malaysia to win a medal in Olympics.
His bronze medal feat is the second medal for the country after diving pair, Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong contributed a silver in the synchronised 10m platform last Tuesday.
In another interview with bernama, Azizulhasni said he was in great fear of disqualification after the keirin race had to be restarted twice.
After making it through the heats and placed himself in the final six cyclists for medal contention, the 28-year-old rider had to endure agonising moments at the Olympic Veldrome after the final was stopped for technical
As the starter-gun fired for the eight-lap race, Britain’s Jason Kenny went off the line before the derny opened the lane in the seventh lap.
Azizulhasni was leading the pack of six best riders when the race was halted for the first time and when restarted, Germany’s Joachim Eilers did the same before the derny opened the lane for the last two laps.
“I was dead worried and my heart pounded fast because I could be faulted and
among the riders that could be disqualified.
“Getting disqualified at this stage is a disaster because such offence warrants disqualification…however the jury didn’t penalise anyone and restarted the race,” he said.
Azizulhasni finished the race with a bronze medal behind Kenny and Dutchman Matthijs Buchli.
“If I, an Asian rider, were to breach the derny….sure I will be disqualified but here I think because the riders are ‘whiteman’ …no one was penalised,” said Azizulhasni who was the only Asian in the final round.
The derny is a motorised bicycle ridden by a biker to lead the procession of Olympic cyclists in the keirin event.
On his plans, Azizulhasni said he wanted to finish his final year in sports management course in a university in Melbourne, Australia, where he has been based since 2007.
Meanwhile, national track cycling head coach, John Beasley said he was happy for Azizulhasni despite his desire for the gold.
He said Azizulhasni would complete his degree in January and that would be his main focus for the rest of the year.
He said the cyclist also desired to compete and win the gold in the individual keirin and sprint races at the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
“He has not won a medal in an individual event in the SEA Games and badly wants to do that next year,” said Beasley.
The Australian coach has been training Azizulhasni and other track cyclists for almost a decade and has been roped in for the Podium Programme.
The Podium is a tailored made programme to prepare handpicked athletes for medals in regional and international games. – Bernama