This was the year cyclist Azizulhasni Awang finally got his hands on the coveted rainbow (winner’s) jersey that he had been eyeing since taking up track cycling as a sporting career.
And what an incredible ride it has been for the man popularly known as the “Pocket Rocketman”.
After 10 years of trying, Azizul produced a stunning display of guile and speed at the Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong in March to bag the winner’s jersey.
Azizul, 29, timed his last sprint to perfection to win the men’s keirin final and become Malaysia’s first world champion in an Olympic sport.
“I had been trying to become the world champion for 10 years. I came close before – losing by just a fingertip to Chris Hoy (in 2010 final in Copenhagen, Denmark),” said Azizul, who had previously won two silvers and two bronzes in the world meet.
“I was disappointed, but I told myself not to give up and to keep trying as I knew I could do it,” he said. The champ was so overwhelmed by his victory that he lifted his bicycle into the air when the official results were flashed.
Azizul, who made his world meet debut in 2007, won silver in Pruszkow, Poland in 2009 for sprint and also in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 2010 for keirin.
He was back on the podium for keirin when he bagged a bronze in Paris, France, in 2015. He repeated the feat in his pet event in London 2016.
It has been a good year for the pint-sized cyclist from Dungun, Terengganu.
Azizul captured the sprint title at the Asian Cycling Confederation (ACC) Championships in New Delhi, India, just weeks before his historic win in Hong Kong.
In August, Azizul basked in the honour of carrying the Malaysian flag during the march past for the Kuala Lumpur SEA Games. It was a much-cherished month for Azizul as he won the sprint and keirin gold medals at the newly-built National Velodrome in Nilai, Negri Sembilan.
His winning ride in the sprint was the 111th gold medal for Malaysia, helping the nation realise the initial target for the KL SEA Games.
For the newly-crowned world champion, his journey continues as he eyes the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in 2020.
“When I first started, people said that I would not be successful in the sport because of my size. I know I’m racing against giants … big, powerful guys out there.
“But I believe that if you want something, there is always a way to get it. You just have to work it out and never give up, and I did that. I have achieved one of my dreams – to win the world championships – but I’m not contented. I hope to achieve another dream before I retire from track cycling,” he said.
Azizul aims to bring back an Olympic gold medal in 2020. But before that, he has his sights set for victory in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia (April 2018), as well as the Jakarta Asian Games in Indonesia (August).