SEPANG: Aim big and work hard.
That’s the message from national track cyclist Azizulhasni Awang, who returned home to a hero’s welcome at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport here on Friday.
Azizul hopes that his bronze medal success in keirin at the Rio Olympics will inspire all Malaysians to aim for bigger things in life.
It was still a historic achievement as Azizul is Malaysia’s first Olympic medallist in cycling – and only the second Asian to do so. Japan’s Kiyofumi Nagai took bronze in keirin in Beijing in 2008.
“The Olympic medal is the only one missing from my collection. But I come from a small country ... with no long history in track cycling,” said Azizul.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs.
“On the podium, I am way small compared to the six-footers like (Matthijs) Buchli and (Jason) Kenny. But I have shown that not only can we be competitive, we can also beat them at their game.
“I hope my story is an inspiration to all Malaysians – not just in sports, but also in all areas.
“If we put our hearts to it and have the resolve, we can achieve our goals,” added Azizul, who was stunned to be given a special welcome at KLIA.
The plane carrying Azizul was given a “water salute” when it landed and 28-year-old emerged from the plane to shouts of ‘Pocket Rocket Man’ from his supporters and well-wishers.
“I was stunned for a while. I did not expect this ... it’s the first time I’ve experienced this kind of honour.
“When I came out from the plane, everyone wanted to stop and take pictures with me.
“I am happy that what I achieved is appreciated,” said the Terengganu-born cyclist.
Azizul, who only stands at 1.69m tall, made the nation proud with his breakthrough Olympic feat in Rio earlier this week, including beating reigning world champion Jaochim Eilers of Germany to the bronze.
Briton Kenny took gold and Dutchman Buchli the silver.
So, what’s next for our Pocket Rocket Man?
For now, he plans to take a short break and spend time with his wife and two daughters before returning to his Melbourne base.
“One of my daughters has been sick (in Ipoh) ... I will wait for her to get well first before returning to my home state.
“I still have a lot to offer to cycling and I plan to continue until the 2020 Olympics.
“In my first Olympics in 2008, I finished 10th. In London four years ago, I made the final and ended up sixth. Now, I’ve got the bronze. I am improving and I will try for the middle spot in the podium in my next Olympics in Tokyo,” he said.