PETALING JAYA: Track cyclist Azizulhasni Awang (pic) and bowler Rafiq Ismail are the frontrunners for the 2018 Sportswriters Association of Malaysia (SAM)-100PLUS Best Athlete award.
The duo are among six nominees vying for the prestigious honour alongside Cheong Jun Hoong and Pandelela Rinong (diving); Amy Kwan (rhythmic gymnastics); and Mohd Hazim Amzad (silat).
But Azizulhasni, 31, and Rafiq, 21, are seen as the favourites having delivered gold medals at the Asian Games in Indonesia last year.
The Pocket Rocketman won the individual sprint event and added a silver and a bronze in the team sprint and keirin.
Rafiq poses a threat to Azizulhasni’s hopes of winning the award for a third time after banging the gong in 2009 and 2017.
The bowler underlined his credentials by not only becoming the first-ever Malaysian to be crowned the men’s Masters champion at the Asiad, he also ended the nation’s 39-year wait for a gold at the World Championships in Hong Kong.
Rafiq also teamed up with Timmy Tan and Ahmad Muaz Fishol to win silver in the trios in the Asian Games.
The race for the Best Paralympic Athlete sees a four-way battle between Rio Paralympian gold medal winners Mohd Ridzuan Puzi, Muhd Ziyad Zolkefli, Abdul Latif Romly and Bonnie Bunyau Anak Gustin from powerlifting.
But sprinter Ridzuan should have the edge after claiming three golds at the Asian Para Games in Indonesia. He posted a new world record in the T36 100m race and also broke the Asian record for the T36 long jump en route to his victories.
This year’s ceremony marks a very special occasion for SAM as it reaches the 50th year milestone since its establishment in 1969.
The event will be graced by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.