Out of this world

— Asyraf Rasid / Thesun
— Asyraf Rasid / Thesun
— Asyraf Rasid / Thesun

AZIZULHASNI Awang's name was first plastered all over the media when he brought home a bronze in the Rio 2016 Olympics. But the win wasn't the end as he went on to make history and became the first Malaysian to wear the coveted rainbow jersey after winning the 2017 Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong, making him the world champion.

He received his first bicycle from his late father when he was three and a half years old and since then, he has fallen in love with cycling. He used to spend evenings cycling around his kampung with his friends, and he was the only one who would perform tricks on his bicycle.

"My brother and I also loved to modify our bicycles. We even created a 'fixie' (fixed gear) bicycle (also known as a 'drag bike' at that time)," he said.

Before venturing into cycling, he participated in various sports such as soccer, athletics, rugby, cross country, running, handball and hockey. He also competed in district and state levels in MSSM, and was one of the best sportsmen in his district and state.

"I've always felt cycling was different from the other sports as it suits my character. I am at my happiest when I am cycling and through cycling, I got to express myself by performing tricks in front of my friends in my kampung," he said.

How did you get the nickname, Pocket Rocketman?
It was given by international commentators and press during my UCI Track Cycling World Cup 2008 in Melbourne. I made it to the finals in the keirin along with the world champ and ex-world champ, and I was considered an underdog.

When the race reached the bell lap (last lap), I sprinted from the back of the pack and passed both of them. I did a wheelie at the finishing line which was my trademark to celebrate my victory.

Since then, the commentator addressed me as Pocket Rocketman due to my small size, yet I'm able to sprint like a rocket to beat other cyclists who were bigger in size. It was my first Gold medal for the World Cup and the local press in Australia also started using that nickname when referring to me.

What is your training routine?

I train six to eight hours a day depending on the programme and training block. My routine starts at 5am in the morning to prepare myself for the morning training session. Training starts at 6am either at the gym or road ride, which usually lasts for two to three hours.

During my semester in university, I will head straight to university from training, and right after my classes, I will head straight to the velodrome. Training at the velodrome starts at 1pm and finishes around 4pm to 5pm. Then, I head home for dinner, spend time with my family and catch up on my studies.

What was the most traumatising injury that has impacted you?

I was involved in a splinter incident in 2010 at World Cup Manchester where I had a horrific crash and suffered a serious injury when a 20cm wooden splinter pierced through my calf between my tibia and fibula bones.

I managed to get back onto my bicycle with that splinter on my leg to finish the race and earned a bronze medal. Due to the injury, I missed the World Championships which was a few months after the incident. In fact, I didn't know if I could make a strong comeback in a short period, in my mission to qualify for the London 2012 Olympic Games.

I had to start from scratch to build my performance and it was really tough and at certain moments, I felt like giving up. I'm lucky to have my coach, my wife and my family who gave me tremendous support to keep me going.

To overcome those challenges, I always recalled why I entered the track cycling scene in the first place. I always believe that I am a fighter so I needed to get back to the saddle as soon as possible and beat my opponents. In addition, I still have my goals in the list that need to be achieved, to become the world and Olympic champion.

Who inspires you in cycling?

My coach, John Beasley. He is not just a coach but he is also my good friend, mentor, brother, "dad" in Melbourne and my idol. He has done and sacrificed so much for this sport to push the Malaysian track cycling team and me towards excellence. He has inspired me with his coaching, as well as his character outside of his coaching role and most importantly, he really believes in me.

Another one of my biggest inspirations are my fellow Malaysians, especially those who stood behind me, gave me the support, and cheered me towards my victory. Even those who have criticised me, have only inspired me to push myself forward.

I am also grateful to CIMB for their support in my cycling career. With CIMB's constant motivation, I am more determined and one step closer in my hopes to clinch my first Olympic Gold medal and be the World Champion.