By Jean-François Quénet in Beijing, China
While track events at the Olympic Games don't start until August 15, Malaysia's sprinters made their way to Beijing, China the day prior to the opening ceremony so three time Asian keirin champion Azizul Hasni Awang could carry the nation's flag.
"It means a lot for the development of Malaysian track cycling to have Azizul chosen for that honour," said Josiah Ng, who is the most experienced of the Malaysian sprinters. "He's the product of the talents scout program put in place in the country. Malaysia has never had such a big delegation at the Olympics, with 33 athletes this year."
The country last collected an Olympic medal at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, United States of America. After coming fifth in the keirin in Athens four years ago, Josiah was celebrated as Malaysia's Olympian of the year, but he's aiming at more this time around.
"I'm not a favourite but I've not had this form for a few years," he said. "On Sunday at training I've done my best time, all of us have done our best time. This track with long straights, it suits us a lot."
For a year and half, the Malaysian team sprint has worked together under the advice of Australian coach John Beasley. Azizul and Mohd Rizal Tisin have followed Josiah in Melbourne.
"France is the huge favourite for the team sprint but we can make the top eight," said the Philippino-born rider who grew up in California, USA and returned to Malaysia in 1999 to get his identity card. "They told me to come back the year after and I represented Malaysia for my first international event here in China. It was in Shanghai for the 2000 Asian championships."
Being ethnically a Chinese, although he doesn't really speak the language, Josiah feels at home in Beijing. "And I feel right at home here in the athletes village," he added. "I feel natural and very comfortable. I'm enjoying everything and I stay focused. I can make a good result."
Ng will compete in the team sprint on August 15 and in the keirin on August 16 while Azizul will be Malaysia's lone representative in the individual sprint.
"He's been incredible," Josiah said about the 19 year-old from Terrenganu.
Like many of the large track cycling teams, they prepared for the Olympic Games in Germany. Azizul was fourth in the GP of Cottbüs and sixth in the GP of Erfurt, where Josiah won the keirin event.
"I've beaten a few Germans and Australians recently," Josiah smiled.
The heat and humidity in China which has affected riders from abroad has had little impact on the Malaysians, who are use to conditions in the region. "Even at the opening ceremony, we were the only athletes not sweating because our traditional Malay costumes were made in silk," said Josiah.