Ageing like fine wine

PETALING JAYA: It’s a common saying that an athlete is past their prime when they hit 30 but Malaysia’s track cyclist Azizulhasni Awang is the exception.

Azizul, in fact, is defying the odds at this moment and it would be wise not to bet against him making it to a record fifth Olympic appearance in Paris in 2024.

Going by his superb display in the spring event at the Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin in March, it is a clear indication that the 32-year-old has continued to make steady progress.

The world meet was the last major competition for the track cyclists to wrap up the Olympic qualification campaign before Covid-19 pandemic shut down the sporting world and Azizul made a big impact to earn two individual medals for the first time – bronze medals in the sprint and keirin events.

It was only the second time in his career he made the world championships podium in the sprint discipline.

His first time was taking giant-looking Gregory Bauge of France to the wire before losing the third heat to settle for an impressive silver in the 2009 world meet in Poland.

Azizul, then only 21, clocked 10.210 seconds in his sprint qualifying run. And he has managed to maintain his performance curve over the last five years of participation at the world meet.

Azizul’s time in Berlin saw him clock 9.548 seconds to place fifth fastest in qualifying before he went all the way to take bronze the following day.

Azizul smashed the Asian record of 9.609 seconds set by Japan’s Fukaya Tomohiro at the Track World Cup meet in Cambridge, New Zealand last December.

The improvement rate in 11 years (2009-2020) is 0.06 seconds each and going by his performance curve, do not discount the former world champion cyclist going for another Olympics in Paris after Tokyo.

The Tokyo Olympic Games have been pushed to 2021 and it is just three years before the Paris Games.

Having trained under John Beasley in Melbourne for 14 years, Azizul does not see any reason for him to step away if he is still competitive at the top level.

“There are no signs that I am slowing down and my commitment is still the same. I’m always hungry for victory.

“I became the world champion (in Hong Kong in 2017) after trying for almost 10 years.

“My biggest goal now is to get the Olympic gold medal and for me, it’s about the mentality and commitment.

“The signs are that I can go for two more Olympics. And if then, it would not be so much about delivering performance but also leading the next generation.

“If we do not have the backup or development rider from now, we are not going to have future champions,” said Azizul, who has qualified together with training partner Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

But talent and determination are not enough to be successful at the highest level when one gets older.

“I take everything into detail. We learn from the best like the Sky Track Cycling Team (Britain) who really pay attention to specific detail... from the food they eat, the bed and pillow they sleep on, hygiene like having hand sanitisers around to avoid catching virus.

“When you reach the 30s, the recovery is slightly slower than when you are in your 20s. But the good thing now is we got strong sports science support and using new methods like ice bath and cryotherapy for faster recovery.”

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