IT is the final 6 months of preparations that began soon after Azizulhasni Awang took the historic bronze medal in the keirin at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
If lesser athletes, particularly those from this part of the world, might have seen that as the highlight of their careers – a lifetime pension and national hero status already established – it didn’t take long, a month later to be exact, for Azizulhasni to begin talking up the idea of a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Already with a string of sub-10 seconds flying lap sprints done at a frequency never seen in his younger years highlighting his form in 2019, Azizulhasni has dumped age out of any debate regarding his potential to deliver despite celebrating his 32nd birthday on January 5.
But the sprint isn’t what Azizulhasni is banked on to deliver, it is the keirin. And his form has been explosive. Having started the 2019-2020 UCI World Cup season with a sixth place in the third round of the series in Hong Kong and upped that with victory in the fourth round in Cambridge, New Zealand adding a gold medal to the campaign amidst a strong field of finalists that saw Australian-turned-Russian Shane Perkins settling for second ahead of Australian-who-is-still Australian Matthew Glaetzer.
Then came a minor scare in the final round of the World Cup in Brisbane, when a crash in the opening round saw him suffer a concussion on top of a few bruises and swelling, ending his World Cup campaign.
In the latest world rankings released by the UCI on January 21, Azizulhasni moved to the top spot with 2560 points, ahead of Japan’s Yudai Nitta, but again this is familiar territory which the Dungun-born has experienced before.
He had entered the 2016 Olympics also ranked world number 1, enough to set the gold medal as a possibility which didn’t materialise.
Thus form, rather than rankings are the focus in Azizulhasni’s preparations and the World Championships that begin in Berlin on February 26, will provide further hints of what he can expect in Tokyo.
His world title in 2017, despite all the historic connotations, critics may argue was delivered in a post-Olympic season, seen as a season where the big guns usually take an extended break after the grueling stretch towards the Olympics.
But this time, Azizulhasni seems to be the big gun who is firing on all cylinders and should be looking a brighter prospect than in his previous two attempts at the Olympics this time around.
Read our report on the WX-R Vorteq bikes that Azizulhasni will be riding at the Olympics here:
From the bikes, the support and the quiet and steady preparations towards Tokyo, it is a matter of executing the plan.
“Our focus will be on the World Championships and after that there isn’t much, just five months before the Olympics. So we will decide what the plan will be in terms of training camps and the rest, after the World Championships,” said Azizulhasni.