Role of sport science in Pocket Rocketman’s world class performance’

by BERNAMA / pic by BERNAMA

KUALA LUMPUR – The expertise of the workforce in sports science in Malaysia is on par with the world’s sports superpowers through research and development, as well as progress in the performance of national track cycling champion Mohd Azizulhasni Awang (picture) ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, next July.

The success by Mohd Azizulhasni, given the nickname ‘The Pocket Rocketman’, in becoming the world champion for the keirin event at the World Track Cycling Championships in 2017, proved the rejection of the anthropometrical superiority’ since the early 90s was appropriate.

Anthropometrical superiority refers to the concept that size and physical shape always give advantage in sports.

Now, the concept of marginal improvement is given emphasis by the Olympic Cycling team and Mohd Azizulhasni by taking into account the aspect of “attention to details”, which is to achieve accuracy and precision when completing tasks by giving full attention to all areas involved.

Through the concept, Olympic Cycling Team Lead Mohd Izham Mohammad said the team conducted an assessment on every aspect that could help maximise whatever potential Mohd Azizulhasni had towards achieving the highest performance.

“For example, by taking into account the factor that Mohd Azizulhasni has a low body composition compared to other athletes, where in cycling, it is an advantage in terms of wind drag,.

“The low and small physical size results in a small frontal surface area and lower wind resistance compared with larger competitors. Therefore, we focus a lot on optimising his muscle composition and position to obtain optimal performance,” he told Bernama.

According to an expert on sports science, Associate Professor Dr Mohd Khairi Zawi, the Education Faculty, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), in terms of physiology or physical properties, there are times when small athletes may have a denser composition of fast twitch muscles than larger athletes.

He said it can also guarantee success in sports that are ‘explosive’ and anaerobic, such as track cycling,  as well as giving focus to the factor on biomechanics.

“In the biomechanical aspect, we can maximise the relevant ergonomic aspects, for example in cycling by getting the bike design to match the rider’s dynamics, which makes the bicycle and rider look like they are one entity,” he said as quoted in an article by the National Sports Institute (ISN).

It cannot be denied that Mohd Azizulhasni can now be considered the main prospect towards realising the dream of Malaysia’s first Olympic gold medal, being first in the individual sprint event and second in the keirin event based on the latest ranking released by the International Cycling Union (UCI) recently.

The target set on Mohd Azizulhasni to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics is no longer a secret with the Olympic Cycling team having tabled the 2016-2020 performance plan with a focus on research and development on cycling.

Mohd Izham, who is also the Head of the Sports Nutrition Centre at ISN, said it took into account competitors such as from Australia and Great Britain that had invested a lot of money and expertise in research and development programmes since the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

“While doing the ‘performance gap’ process, we found that if the aspects on ‘maginal gains’ and ‘performance solution’ are given priority, we have the opportunity to improve the medal position at the coming Tokyo Olympics.

“Based on the facts and data that were presented, and in line with the direction of the Podium Programme when he won the first gold at the 2020 Olympics, the High Performance Command & Control (HPCC) panel,  comprising the Youth and Sports Ministry, National Sports Council, Malaysian Olympic Council and ISN are confident with the plan,” he said.

Looking back, Terengganu -born Mohd Azizulhasni’s impressing success in emerging a world champion came only after eight months of making history as the country’s first cycling athlete to be on the Olympic podium when he won the bronze medal in the keirin event at the 2016 edition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

He continued to excel in the sport by winning the gold medal in the 2018 Asian Games sprint event in Jakarta,  which was also his second gold in the individual event after winning the gold in the keirin event in the 2010 edition.

He continues to consistently place himself in the group of the world’s elite track cyclists in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics by winning the bronze medals in the keirin and individual sprint events at the 2020 World Championships.

However, a heavy task awaits the Olympic Cycling team and the coaching staff ahead of the Olympics, with factors, like injury and fever,  are among elements that can jeopardise performance at major tournaments.

“If an athlete is injured or down with fever, we have to reduce the intensity of training and the athlete also takes time to recover, so we have taken preventative measures, such as undergoing training as well as physiotherapy,  and to always take of personal hygiene and cleanliness.

“A balance in training, nutrition and rehabilitation, including sleep time, is very important for Mohd Azizulhasni in his final preparations for the 2020 Olympic Games,” said Mohd Izham.