Azizul and Shah Firdaus show no rust after nine months of inactivity

They’re looking good for Tokyo: Coach John Beasley with Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom (right) and Azizulhasni Awang.

PETALING JAYA: Cyclists Azizulhasni Awang and Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom swept away nine months of inactivity under the carpet to showcase their mettle at the Australia National Track Championships in Brisbane.

They have kept themselves competitively sharp, going by Azizul’s win and Shah Firdaus’ third-place finish in the keirin race.

And this bodes well for their chances to make an impact in the sprint and keirin races at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

Azizul won the men’s elite keirin race ahead of Australia’s Matthew Glaetzer on Sunday.

The Covid-19 pandemic saw the Olympics pushed back by a year to next August and the duo had to do with less training intensity but only conditioning work in the gym.

Azizul’s highlight of the year will certainly be the World Track Cycling Championships in Berlin at the start of 2020 where he claimed bronze medals in keirin and sprint races.

His achievement in sprint was especially sweeter as he has not made the podium in the discipline since the 2009 edition in Poland where he settled for silver after losing out to Gregory Bauge of France in the final.

And to achieve that, Azizul certainly rose above the rest of the field as the most improved sprinter in Berlin.

Azizul cracked his own national record of 9.760 seconds in setting a new Asian record of 9.548 in qualifying in Berlin.

Putting things into perspective, Azizul posted 10.02 seconds in sprint qualifying at the 2019 edition of the world meet in Poland. It’s an improvement margin of 0.454 and much better than what the two sprint finalists Harrie Lavreysen and Jeffrey Hoogland achieved.

Lavreysen beat Hoogland in the all-Dutch men’s sprint final in Berlin. In qualifying, Lavreysen was the fastest qualifier with 9.253 seconds.

He clocked 9.574 seconds in Poland last year for an improvement margin of 0.331 seconds.

Hoogland was the second fastest qualifier in sprint with 9.322 seconds. He clocked 9.572 seconds for an improvement margin of 0.250 seconds.

Shah Firdaus also improved tremendously as he clocked a personal best of 9.609 seconds in sprint qualifying in Berlin. He managed 10.009 in last year’s world meet, so it’s an improvement curve of 0.400 seconds.

Malaysian team coach John Beasley said it took a lot of hard work to get Azizul and Shah Firdaus to where they are today to prepare for their Olympics missions.

“We are racing on much, much bigger gear now as the change in rules will allow a rider to use tactics to hold up their opponents, ” said Beasley.

“In 2009, I had a 62kg sprinter but in 2020, I got a rider weighing 74kg. It’s taken that long to bulk up.

“We are starting to look into other aspects and that also involves seating position and aerodynamics of the bike.

“Basically, we look into the marginal aspects to improve our cyclists and that’s how Azizul is able to come up with 9.548 at the start of this year, ” said Beasley.

Beasley, in summing up the year for the duo, said it was nice to finish off the year well.

“I’m very happy with both of them. It’s been a tough year for everyone and it was good to see where we are currently at. We are right on target and happy where we are at.

“It will be a well-earned two weeks of break before we start our final preparation for Tokyo, ” he added.

Next year will see Azizul become the first Malaysian cyclist to compete in four Olympics while it will be a Games debut for Shah Firdaus.

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