NILAI: Azizulhasni Awang is not physically present but Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom can still rely on sound advice from his illustrious senior when he takes on the Commonwealth Games giants of track cycling in Birmingham next week.
The 26-year-old has been thrust into the starring role in the Commonwealth Games with Tokyo Olympic Games silver medallist Azizul forced to sit out after going for corrective heart surgery in May.
Azizul has been the national track team’s beacon in the last four Commonwealth Games.
Shah Firdaus, who has been Azizul’s understudy since 2014, will have to lead debutants Fadhil Zonis, Mohd Ridwan Sahrom and the women cyclists Anis Amira Rosidi, Nurul Aliana Syafika Azizan and Nurul Izzah Izzati Mohd Asri in Birmingham.
“He (Azizul) regularly keeps in touch with us from Australia. In fact, I was chatting with him this morning as he just wants to know our progress and condition,” said Shah Firdaus.
“Honestly, it surely feels different to be without him. He always motivates everyone.
“We always exchange ideas and talk about the race tactics and strategies as both of us compete in the same events.
“We always talk and share information on the cyclist that we are competing against.
“Personally, I miss his presence in the team and hope to see him return soon,” said the Johor-born cyclist, who will also heed Azizul’s advice to enjoy the Games this time.
“I don’t want to have too high expectations of myself. When you are under pressure, sometimes you can’t give your best performance and Azizul wants us to enjoy the Games as we are all still new compared to other more experienced competitors whom we would be facing there.”
Shah Firdaus claimed two silvers in the team sprint and keirin at the recent Asian Track Cycling Championships in New Delhi.
At the last Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast four years ago, the Malaysian cycling team returned home empty-handed. Shah Firdaus came closest to getting a medal when he lost to Jacob Schmid of Australia in the shoot-out for the bronze medal in sprint.
Josiah Ng is the only Malaysian cyclist to have won gold at the Commonwealth Games when he finished first in the men’s keirin final in New Delhi in 2010 following the disqualification of Azizul for an illegal move.