SEA Games: Landmark gold launches Rocketman's Olympic dream

Nilai (Malaysia) (AFP) –


Malaysia's "Pocket Rocketman" Azizulhasni Awang set his sights on Olympic glory after he filled a gap in his trophy cabinet with cycling gold at the Southeast Asian Games -- and set off national rejoicing in the process.

The pint-sized world keirin champion, who is 1.66m (5ft 5in) tall, had never won a SEA Games individual title until his assured victory in the men's sprint late on Monday.

It also happened to be table-topping Malaysia's 111th gold medal of the Games -- matching their record haul in 2001, when they last hosted the regional mini-Olympics.

"I can't even describe with words," Azizulhasni told AFP, as Malaysia's sports minister and the state sultan joined celebrations at a packed National Velodrome in Nilai.

"Mostly because I won in front of my parents, they hardly ever watch my race live. And also to be the winner of the 111th gold medal is absolutely amazing for me."

It caps a breakthrough 12 months for the 29-year-old, who took keirin bronze at last year's Rio Olympics before winning the event at the world championships in Hong Kong in April.

"I've had a very good career, bronze medal at the Olympic Games and then a world title," he said. "SEA Games (gold) feels about the same as my world title because it's amazing to win in front of your home crowd."

Azizulhasni, who is also hot favourite for the SEA Games keirin title, is now starting his preparations for the next world championships in April.

But he said his emotional victory on home soil could be a good omen as he builds towards what he hopes will be the pinnacle of his career -- the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"For Tokyo 2020, of course I want to win a gold medal and who knows, maybe this victory 111 is a good sign for my Tokyo Olympics," he smiled.