By Jean-François Quénet in Kuala Lumpur
After the performances of Malaysia's riders at last week's UCI Track World Championships in Pruskow, Poland, interest in their home country has increased significantly. Approximately one hundred fans and friends, plus a large gathering of reporters waited for the arrival of passengers from Amsterdam at Kuala Lumpur international airport at 3pm yesterday, as banners greeted the national team.
Azizul Asni Awang's silver in the individual sprint and Rizal Tisin's bronze in the 1000m time trial was cause for celebration, with a function at the Malaysian National Sports Council in Bukit Jalil – also the headquarters for Le Tour de Langkawi – awaiting the successful duo.
"This is the first time Malaysia has returned with medals from the cycling world championships," said Minister for Youth and Sports, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob. "History has been made and now we know that not only [athletes in] badminton can target a gold medal at the next Olympic Games in London in 2012 but [those in] cycling also can do it."
With cycling (plus archery and badminton) identified as one of the three sports likely to Malaysia Olympic medals, funding has been allocated accordingly. The Minister also announced that Azizul and Rizal will receive an incentive reward of 20 000 and 10 000 Malaysian Ringgits respectively (approximately US$5,550 and US$2,770) for their achievements.
Malaysia's Australian coach John Beasley and Josiah Ng, who finished sixth in the team sprint in Poland (a significantly improved performance), were also welcomed as national heroes.
"My co-operation started with Josiah, who was looking for a coach and came to me in Melbourne," recalled Beasley. "After the Commonwealth Games in 2006, I took care of the whole Malaysian team. That was the breath of fresh air I was looking for and now I'll spend more time in this country because there is a huge potential of development at many levels," he added.
"BMX and MTB are also a concern now," continued Beasley. "On the track, the next target is a World's gold medal. The results in Poland have shown that it is a very realistic goal, especially in the kilo."
Ng was delighted to see the excitement now surrounding Malaysian cycling. "Hollywood couldn't have written a better script", said the Philippines-born Malaysian who grew up in California. "It's hard to say that it's a fairytale because it's only the beginning of the story. More great things are yet to come from our country," he said.
"What was done in Poland will hopefully inspire thousands of Malaysian kids as much as I inspired Rizal when he came and watched me riding a world cup event in Ipoh nine years ago – and now he's a medallist at the world championship. One generation on and it's time for other kids to perform."
That next generation could be inspired by these latest events, and some of them were also part of the function in Bukit Jalil, sharing Azizul and Rizal's joy. The Malaysian track squad will continue to celebrate at home before returning to training in Melbourne with the aim of taking more medals at the next Asian Games in China and Commonwealth Games in India next year.
"Nothing less than gold will be our aim," said Ng. "Hopefully we'll remain the dominant team in Asia as we were at these world championships."