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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 19 ― The mind, they say, is a powerful tool and that ― his psychological strength ― is what sets national track cyclist and 2017 world champion Mohd Azizulhasni Awang apart from the rest.
In fact, that has also allowed the pint-sized cyclist to overcome the constraints from the physiological aspect or physical nature to prove himself as an elite athlete on the world stage.
It is no secret that his never-say-die attitude has propelled the 33-year-old, who is also known by the nickname ‘The Pocket Rocketman’, to immense success, but do not forget that his tenacity and determination in handling the rigorous training routines throughout his career have also helped him to continue to perform at the optimum level despite his age.
In fact, the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games keirin bronze medallist always ensures that he keeps abreast with the latest on sports science in his effort to tackle every challenge that comes his way so that he can achieve the best performance in every race.
Mohd Izham Mohamad, the Olympic cycling team lead who works closely with Mohd Azizulhasni, knows exactly what makes the cyclist from Dungun, Terengganu tick and he has no doubt that it is his mental strength.
“I have tested and analysed many national cyclists, including Azizulhasni, but what makes him stand out as an athlete with the complete package is his psychological strength,” he told Bernama today.
“Whether he is training or not, he is always committed and disciplined always striving to improve his performance by learning more about the latest coaching and training methods and sports science. We also often debate regarding science, technology, nutrition and sports, among others.
“He can give us accurate and speedy feedback after every training and test session. He is what can be described as a ‘thinking athlete’, which makes our job as the support team even easier. That’s what sets him apart and makes him special,” he explained.
Hopes are high that Mohd Azizulhasni, who is currently ranked number one in the sprint event and number two in keirin based on the latest Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) ranking list, will be the one to finally end Malaysia's gold medal quest at the Olympics when he competes in the Tokyo Games in July.
This will be his fourth Olympic outing, having competed in Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, and Mohd Izham attributed the cyclist’s list of commendable achievements to a combination of self-determination, systematic training and support from sports and technology applications.
Mohd Izham, who is also the head of the sports nutrition centre at the National Sports Institute (NSI), said Mohd Azizulhasni may be small in size, standing at just 1.66-metre tall, but cleverly uses his astute technical, tactical and psychological know-how to continue to take his performance one step higher each time.
“The uniqueness of the sport of cycling is that it can be judged and analysed in terms of time, speed, strength, pressure and so on. When all these elements are combined, we can predict the athlete's performance through the ‘modelling’ method and that helps us a lot when drawing up the training sessions,” he said.
Having said that, there is no denying the role of the NSI in the rise of the national sports icon, seeing how the expertise in the field of sports science has helped Mohd Azizulhasni to shine on the international stage although previously many had doubted his capability.
Mohd Izham admitted that one of the main factors which can influence the performance of a cyclist in the sprint event is body size, including the physiological aspects where high muscle composition is required to produce high-intensity pedalling.
According to him, there are several other factors that play a crucial role in track cycling, such as technical, tactical, physiological as well as psychological aspects, and that all these elements are fully utilised by Mohd Azizulhasni and his team.
“We draw up the performance plan by emphasising on the technical aspect, namely aerodynamics, pedalling position, bicycle equipment and gear selection, while from the tactical aspect we look at race strategy and study the opponents’ tactics.
“From the physiological angle, we look at body composition, power to weight ratio, track and gymnasium training, recovery as well as nutrition besides the psychological aspect. Each of these elements play a vital role and contribute to his overall performance,” he explained.
Apart from winning the Olympic bronze and clinching the keirin world title, Mohd Azizulhasni also bagged gold medals in keirin and sprint at the 2010 and 2018 Asian Games respectively as well as a series of victories in Asian meets.
Being the “psychological beast” that he is, Mohd Azizulhasni has continued to consistently be among the leading pack of the world's top track cyclists and last year he again showed his mettle when he clinched bronze medals in keirin and individual sprint at the 2020 World Championships.
Mohd Azizulhasni, who is now undergoing intensive training in Melbourne, Australia to fulfil his mission of bringing home the country's first Olympic gold medal, wrapped up the 2020 season in style when he won the keirin gold at the 2020 Australian National Track Championships in Brisbane in December.
For someone who has been at the top of his sport for the last 14 years, since introducing himself to the international stage back in 2007, he truly is a mentality monster! ― Bernama