If Azizulhasni Awang goes for a fifth Olympics outing in three years time, Malaysia should be aiming to qualify for the team sprint event in Paris.
Malaysia can count on the cyclists to shine again at the next Olympics as indicated by the fighting performances by Azizul and Mohd Shah Firdaus Sahrom in Tokyo.
Azizul showed he is right up there with the world’s best keirin contenders like Jason Kenny and Holland’s Harrie Lavreysen with two Olympics medals under his belt.
Five years after winning a first cycling medal for Malaysia with a bronze in Rio de Janeiro, Azizul added another silver to his collection.
Azizul was denied a gold in keirin following a brilliant bold move from Kenny who decided to sprint out early and left the others fighting for the lesser medals in the end.
Kenny said his brilliant performance in the keirin has made him rethink about giving Paris another shot despite already becoming the most successful British Olympian with seven gold medals.
At Paris 2024, both Kenny and Azizul will be 36 while Lavreysen, the reigning world champion who bagged bronze on Sunday, will be 27.
Track cyclists can stay competitive at the highest level even in their 30s and Chris Hoy has showed that it was possible when he bagged his fifth and sixth Olympics titles in London in 2012 at the age of 36.
Germany’s Maximilian Levy is also 36 and was a finalist in the keirin final on Sunday.
Besides focusing on keirin, qualification for the team sprint should be in coach John Beasley’s plan for the next Olympic cycle.
Azizul can play a useful role as the starter with Shah Firdaus and Mohd Fadhil Zonis groomed for the respective second and anchor rider slots.
It is definitely not easy for Malaysia to aim for team sprint qualification with only eight slots at stake but it’s worth trying.
Malaysia’s only Olympics appearance in the team sprint was in Beijing in 2008 when Azizul, Josiah Ng and Rizal Tisin finished seventh.
Azizul will not be the only medal hope as Shah Firdaus will be stronger and more experienced by then.
Shah Firdaus will be 28 in 2024 and should be in his prime.
“What happened in Tokyo has not affected my confidence and I believe I can fight with the best on the world stage one day,” said Shah Firdaus, who was involved in a first-round crash but still put up a gutsy fight to finish in the top two in the repechage to reach the quarter-finals.
“It’s just that I needed some time to get more experience. What happened in Tokyo was my biggest learning curve.”