PETALING JAYA: Ten years of blood, sweat and tears have finally culminated in national cyclist Azizulhasni Awang being crowned a world champion.
And what an incredible ride it has been for the man popularly known as “Pocket Rocketman”.
Azizul finally got his hand on the coveted rainbow jersey (winner’s jersey) that he had been eyeing the whole of his illustrious career with a stunning display of guile and speed in the Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong.
The 29-year-old timed his last sprint to perfection to win the men’s keirin final by a comfortable margin to create history for Malaysia last night.
Azizul finished ahead of the in-form Fabian Hernando Puerta Zapata of Colombia and Babek Thomas of the Czech Republic to become the new world champion in men’s keirin.
He is also Malaysia’s first world champion in an Olympic sport.
Earlier yesterday, the Rio Olympic bronze medallist gave very little indication of what was to come.
Azizul earlier finished second in his first-round heat behind Zapata to earn an automatic ticket to the second round.
He then finished third behind reigning Commonwealth Games champion Matthew Glaetzer of Australia and Thomas, a two-time World Cup winner this season, in the second-round heat. That was enough for him to be the only Asian to reach the top-six final.
But it didn’t matter as Azizul saved his best for last.
“For 10 years I’ve been trying to become the world champion. I’ve come close before – losing by just a fingertip to Chris Hoy (in the 2010 final in Copenhagen, Denmark),” said Azizul, who had previously won two silvers and two bronzes in the world meet.
“I was disappointed but I told myself not to give up and to keep trying as I knew I could do it.
“Alhamdullilah, I am finally the world champion.
“I want to thank all Malaysians who watched and prayed for my success,” added Azizul, who showed his delight by carrying his bicycle in the air once the official results were flashed.
Azizul, who made his world meet debut in 2007, won silver in Pruszkow, Poland in 2009 in sprint and also in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2010 in keirin.
He was back on the podium for keirin when he bagged a bronze in Paris, France, in 2015. He repeated that feat in his pet event in London last year.
Another Malaysian, Muhd Shah Firdaus Sahrom, endured a miserable debut in the world meet when he failed to win the repechage.
Shah Firdaus, who had won his first Track World Cup medal – a bronze – in the final leg in Los Angeles, the United States, was beaten by reigning world champion Joachim Eilers of Germany to a place in the second round.
Shah Firdaus had to compete in the repechage after finishing third in his first-round heat.