Azizulhasni Awang made history by becoming Malaysia’s first world champion in an Olympic sport when he won the keirin gold in Hong Kong recently. The Rio Olympics bronze medallist talks to Timesport’s Farah Azharie.
Question: World champion, that’s one off your bucket list. What’s life like post-World Championships?
Answer: Definitely one off my bucket list... it is someting that I have been chasing for so long.
Since there was a big amount of effort and lots of ups and downs, it makes this victory really sweet for me.
As far as I’m concerned, I have achieved pretty much everything on my bucket list but I still want to go for gold at the Tokyo Olympic in 2020, instead of just being satisfied with the bronze from Rio.
For me, life as an athlete gets busier with increased popularity.
When I came home to Malaysia, the reception from various parties was amazing and I would like to thank all of them.
In terms of my ‘commercial value’, it pushes me to a higher level. I have been approached by numerous companies and brands for sponsorship.
The reception I got on social media was quite hot too where my followers have almost reached 100,000.
However, from an individual standpoint, the world champion title doesn’t change me a bit.
I am still the same individual by the name of Azizulhasni Awang who is really passionate at what he does and someone who enjoys riding his bike.
At the same time, the title has given me an extra jolt of boost for me to work harder and double my efforts during training because now, I’m at the top and there’s nowhere else to go but down.
I am obsessed with success and I will make sure that my performance does not drop.
Q: What was the first reaction from your wife, kids and other family members and friends when you called them after winning the world title?
A: After the race, I spent long hours at the velodrome to do the doping test.
By the time I went back to the hotel, it was nearly midnight.
Luckily she (wife, Athiah Ilyana Abd Samat) was still awake and waiting for my call.
She shed tears of joy because she knew how much I had to sacrifice and how hard I had to work to make this dream a reality.
My parents and family members are all very thankful and happy with what I’ve achieved.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to my girls (Amna Khadeeja and Amna Maryan) because they were already sleeping.
But it was quite emotional when I got to watch a video of my family watching and supporting me in front of the television plus their reactions.
There were those who jumped, panicked and their reactions really made me laugh.
Q: Chasing aspirations and making dreams a reality plus trying to make it as a student at Victoria University, what’s been the hardest about living the life you live?
A: The hardest is to catch a break. As a human being, I also want to be able to take long vacations with my wife and kids.
Sometimes, my wife and kids want a little family time to go on holidays or spend longer periods of time together but I can only ask them to be patient because I want to chase my dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.
The restriction in time is the reason I am unable to spend time with my parents in Dungun, Terengganu.
Of course they want to see me and the same goes for me but they are not getting any younger. I have to be with them.
Apart from that, I would like my efforts to inspire Malaysians especially in terms of balancing everything which includes getting the best education, as a professional athlete, as a father and as a husband. Nothing is impossible, you just have to find the best way to do it.
Q: It’s pretty demanding being Azizulhasni Awang and your wife must be a pretty outstanding woman to understand all this. Can you share with us how it’s been for her and your daughters?
A: Of course it hasn’t been easy on them. Both of my daughters are in the process of growing up and they need me by their side. Because of that, I try and spend whatever spare time I have with them, have fun with them and take them out.
I can’t push all that aside because I can’t turn back time and I need to go through it no matter what. I would like to thank my wife for all of her sacrifices, plus making way for me and my career.
My wife has also had to deal with me being strict and picky in all aspects.
It is true when they say behind a great man there’s a woman or an even greater wife.
Q: With a huge success such as this, sponsors and corporate parties must be rolling in but what’s the most important to you about this and how does it help you as an athlete?
A: I am so thankful that after my success in Rio last year, here were a number of big sponsors who came forth and will stand by me for four years until the Tokyo Olympics.
These major sponsors include CIMB and AirAsia.
The support and trust from the sponsors is very important in realising the country’s dream to bring home the first Olympic gold medal.
As a professional athlete, sponsorships are vital for training, competitions and such as well as providing financial security after retirement.
A lot of people look down on this but I’ve been stressing on the matter ever since I became a professional athlete.
A lot do not understand that an athlete’s career is very short and the risk is very high.
I look at many of my friends and former athletes who didn’t make any retirement plans. There are some of them who had to start from the bottom as soon as they retired. There were also those who struggled with life.
Because of this, I learnt from what I saw and have decided to make early preparations because I believe that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Apart from that, I have sponsors who sponsor me on a year-to-year basis.
I also hope there will be more giant corporations who will step forth to support me on my road to the 2020 Olympics after my success at the World Championships.
Personally, sponsorships are important to athletes because it allows them to stay focused in training and competitions and it helps them clear their heads of any problems.
Q: We’ve heard about your speaking of a wind tunnel as part of the sports technology Malaysia should adopt. What else is there that could further boost you and other upcoming talents to be on the same level as the rest of the best in track cycling?
A: I will not give any comment regarding the wind tunnel as the best person for this is National Sports Institute (NSI) chief executive officer (Dr Mohd Khairi Zawi).
For me personally, I need the sports technology package to enhance preparation and performance for the Tokyo Olympic Games.
For new talent, they need more time and they should learn from what I’ve done.
I always try to show good leadership and set an example for our youngsters with the hope that they will learn and take it as a lesson.
I am more of an active leader where I prefer to show what needs to be done.
Q: You will go for gold in Tokyo and I’m sure the pressure is there, tell us about it?
A: The 2008 Olympics in Beijing was my first participation in the Olympics, I was still raw and looking for experience.
London 2012, I had the chance to be on the podium but the splinter injury hampered that and also because my expectation to grab the gold medal was too high up to a point where I, myself, could not contain it because I was overly excited about racing.
All these added up to help me in Rio. I was calm and my nerves under control which allowed me to race well.
Although the pressure on me was high to bring home a medal, I was racing in my own little world and I enjoyed every moment of it.
It was all part of the experience and it played a pivotal role in my performance.
Of course, Malaysia has hopes and expectations on me to bring home the gold from Tokyo, but what’s interesting is that it’s always been a dream of mine too.
There’s only one thing left on my bucket list and that’s the Olympic gold medal in order to complete my career.
I’ve been working really hard since day one for this and I guess there’s no pressure for me anymore but rather something exciting.
Q: Looking back, is there anything that you would do differently and why?
A: There’s nothing I would change, I believe everything that I’ve been through in my life was written by Allah.
Every mistake that I’ve made in the past has become a lesson learnt for me.
The heartache and the suffering that I went through has made me who I am today, the strong and sturdy person that I am.
That’s why every time I don’t win a race, I don’t classify it as a failure but rather as a lesson learnt or a learning curve.
Q: With huge success come great responsibilities — what has that been for you?
A: As a proud Malaysian, the hope of millions to see more success from me, especially the Olympic gold medal, is something I take very seriously.
I will use it as my motivation and spirit when I am down.
My World Championship win is proof that I am on the right track and I hope that everyone out there will continue to believe in what I can do and support my journey to the 2020 Olympics.
Now my main focus will be to get basic preparation ready for me to reach the optimum level for Tokyo.
Q: Is there anyone in particular you owe your success to?
A: I would like to thank John Beasley whole-heartedly for being the mastermind behind my success.
We are the only ones who understand the value of the World Championship win, the true value.
Since I started training with him in 2007, he kept bringing me to the next level to become a respected cyclist in the track cycling arena.
Once upon a time, Malaysia wasn’t even known but now it has become a force to be reckoned with.
It’s a huge contribution on John’s part towards me and the country, I hope he gets the highest recognition one day.
I would also like to thank my wife Athiah and our lovely daughters because they are my inspiration and thank you for being my comrade in this challenging path.
Same goes to my parents, my in-laws, and other family members who have stood by my no matter what. Without them, I am nobody.
My success is owed to their relentless prayers and support.
To my sponsors, CIMB, AirAsia, Terengganu State Government, Daikin, Rapha, Oakley, Tumi, Look Bicycle and Ogk Kabuto Helmets, I would like to thank you for everything and having trust in me.
I hope there will be other sponsors to come forth to become a part of my support system.
Thank you to the Sports Ministry and the Podium Program under NSI plus not forgetting the National Sports Council (NSC) who have given me the chance to become a national athlete.
Lastly, thank you to all my supporters and fans who I call Team Azizul.
Thank you for always supporting me. Please continue your great efforts and my achievements will be something we will have achieved together.