IT was in March 2007, when I met Azizulhasni Awang for the first time during a media function.

IT was in March 2007, when I met Azizulhasni Awang for the first time during a media function.
Azizul came to me while I was talking to the then top Malaysian cyclist Josiah Ng and thanked me for highlighting him in an article.
Thanks for supporting us. I am Azizul. Josiah said you are supportive of the Malaysian cycling team, said Azizul, who was only 19 and learning to speak English.
That article was on Azizul when he qualified for his first world track championships in Mallorca, Spain.
He was just starting to stamp his mark on the national cycling scene with triple Asian junior titles won the previous year.
Azizul and Rizal Tisin were then sent to Melbourne to train together with Josiah that year.
It was not long before Azizul began to take over from Josiah as the number one national track cyclist in sprint and keirin.
He went to his first Olympics in Beijing in 2008 as the reigning Asian champion for sprint and keirin.
He finished 10th in the keirin and never looked back. If Josiah was the one who blazed the trail, it was Azizul who took things further as he made history for Malaysian cycling with wins at the World Cup and podiums at the world championships.
It was in 2009 when Azizul first arrived on the world stage with a historic silver finish in the sprint.
He took the then mighty French cyclist Gregory Bauge to the distance and was only denied the gold after losing the deciding heat of the sprint final.
The following year Azizul went into the final in keirin and was beaten by just centimetres by Chris Hoy, then the worlds No. 1 track cyclist.
The year 2010 was a joyous one for him when Azizul ended a 26-year gold drought at the Asian Games after he led Josiah to a 1-2 finish in the mens keirin event. I was privileged to be there in Guangzhou to witness the feat.
Azizul went on to win five more world championship medals, including a historic world title, in Hong Kong in 2017.
Despite winning numerous accolades over the years because of his exploits in the sport, Azizul has remained a humble person due to his upbringing and background.
He never fails to entertain any request from the media and is friendly.
The mutual respect for each others trade is what I think makes him stand out from most of the Malaysian athletes Ive had the privilege to cover over the years.
As someone based in Melbourne for so long, Azizul has developed a good command of English, gained strong self confidence and has enough experience to handle any tough situations.
I know how much Azizul wanted to win the gold on Sunday. His preparation has been as good as he had hoped for but he was beaten through a clever tactical play by Jason Kenny, who went on to become Britains most successful cyclist with his seventh Olympics title.
Azizul has done the country proud. Now, its time for him to take a deserving break with his family. Hopefully, the 33-year-old will not bid Au Revoir to the sport yet as I believe, he still has a shot to win cyclings first gold in Paris at the 2024 Olympics.