National ace Mohd Azizulhasni Awang got his hands back on the Asian sprint title after emerging victorious in the Asian Track Cycling Championship (ACC) 2023 at the National Velodrome in Nilai last night.
The 35-year-old, who had won the sprint title six times – in 2008, 2009, 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2020 – before skipping last year’s edition to recover from open heart surgery, beat Jakarta Nations Cup silver medallist Kaiya Ota of Japan 2-0 (9.924s, 9.828s) in the men’s elite sprint final for a record 11th gold medal overall in the championship.
Earlier in the semi-finals, the Pocket Rocketman knocked out defending champion Kento Yamasaki of Japan 2-0.
After a day’s rest, Azizulhasni will begin his quest for his first Asian keirin title in eight years, having last triumphed in his pet event at the 2015 edition in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.
A victory would see him repeat the two-gold feat in sprint and keirin that he achieved at the 2008 edition in Nara, Japan, where he also claimed the team sprint silver medal.
A tearful Azizulhasni, who had to be comforted by national head coach John Beasley, said he had to overcome huge challenges on and off the track to win the title.
"Overcoming the two Japanese riders in the semi-finals and final today was definitely a huge challenge, especially Kaya, who is a world-class sprint rider. I had to be prepared and adopt the right tactic to overcome him.
"In the first race, I chose to stay behind him and then power away. For the second race, I started in front of him and went full throttle until he ran out of gas at the last bend.
"I am very happy to win my 11th gold medal in the ACC and reach 'legendary status'... even the Japanese riders have not done this in this championships. I can’t control my emotions right now because I have been dreaming of this gold since taking part in Hong Kong (in the International Track Cup) last month," he told reporters.
Yamasaki took third place after beating compatriot Kohei Terasaki 2-0 in the bronze-medal decider.
In the women’s elite sprint final, Japan’s Riyu Ohta defended her crown by beating compatriot Mina Sato 2-0.