Olympics silver medallist to skip Asian track cycling meet

We’ll meet, one day: Azizul wants to be with his heavily pregnant wife in Melbourne and will skip the Asian Championships while India’s Esow Alben (right) will likely hog the limelight.

PETALING JAYA: It would have been an exciting battle between a seasoned warhorse and an emerging talent in the Asian track cycling scene but that clash will have to wait.

Tokyo Olympic Games silver medallist cyclist Azizulhasni Awang has requested to skip the Asian Championships scheduled to take place from Feb 23-27 in New Delhi and that means, he will not get to compete against India’s fast rising star Esow Alben, who is expected to impress in his own backyard.

Cycling coach John Beasley said Azizul would not be going to the Asian meet as he wanted to be with his wife Athiah Ilyana Abdul Samad as she would be in the third trimester of her pregnancy.

“Azizul wants to remain in Melbourne to take care of his wife as she is expecting their third child,” said Beasley.

“He has made a lot of sacrifices in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics last year and we have given him the permission to skip it.

“I believe that we will still put up strong challenge for honours at the Asian championships despite his absence.

“Azizul will be back when we prepare for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games later this year, so that’s where our priorities lie.”

With him pulling out, Azizul will miss the chance to add to his record of 10th career gold medals won at the Asian championship stage. The Terengganu-born cyclist defended his sprint title in the 2020 edition of the meet in South Korea. The 2021 meet was not held because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It would have been an interesting confrontation between the two-time Olympics medallist Azizul and Esow as the 20-year-old has already won four medals at the world junior championship stage and is seen as a medal prospect for India at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Esow, who comes from Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is part of India’s trio who shocked many by winning the team sprint gold at the 2019 world junior meet in Frankfurt.

Esow, like Azizul, is also strong in keirin and sprint.

“We are not sure yet on who will turn up in the Asian championships as it depends on the situation on the ground (with the Omicron variant) but we hope our cyclists Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom and Mohd Fadhil Zonis can make us proud,” said Beasley.

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