Tuesday, October 6, 2009
A tale of two Dungun stars
This is the tale of two lads from Dungun. One a world-beater, the other struggling to rediscover the form that catapulted him to regional stardom half a decade ago.
For cycling enthusiasts, Azizulhasni Awang needs little introduction. He is an icon. His feat in Colombia, where he prevailed against a top class field to bag the men's 200m sprint gold medal two days ago, confirms his world-beating status. The Pocketrocketman is rocketing to greater heights, no doubt, with the London Olympics in 2012 firmly on his sights.
Sprinter Nazmizan Muhammad has gone through that route before. Loose cannon stood as a witness to the historic occasion when Nazmizan bagged the 100m and 200m sprint double before a packed crowd at the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi in December 2003.
Nazmizan was not even supposed to make the journey to Hanoi. He came short of one hundredth of a second to qualify on merit. He boarded the plane to Hanoi after an appeal by the Malaysian Amateur Athletics Union (MAAU).
But he was focused on the task. Smacked in the middle of his last lap of preparation was the holy month of Ramadhan but it did not distract him from his duties.
"I often broke fast with a piece of kurma," he told loose cannon.
It took him just 10.47s to end Malaysia's 36-year wait for the coveted men's 100 metres title. At the exact moment when he surged to the finish line in the 100m on Dec 7 and later the 200m on Dec 10, Nazmizan accomplished what many of his more illustrious predecessors could not.
While Watson Nyambek, Azmi Ibrahim, Rabuan Pit and Abdul Rahman Koyakutty were labelled nearly men, it was left to Nazmizan to become the third Malaysian to complete the unique double after M. Jegathesan in 1965 and G. Rajalingam two years later.
The late Ramli Ahmad from Sabah was left chasing shadows when Thai duo Anat Ratanapol and Suchart Jaesuraparp amassed six titles between them from 1971 to 1983.
Malaccan-born Rabuan snatched the Asian Games gold medal in 1982 but never climbed the podium in the SEA Games century dash (his solitary gold came from the 400m in 1979).
The Flying Iban Watson emerged as the 1998 Asian Championship silver medallist in Fukuoka but could only manage a SEA Games bronze in 1997 and 1999.
Watson's contemporary, Azmi, picked up a silver in Chiangmai 1995 which marked Reanchai Seehawong's coming of age.
So it was left to Nazmizan - who once had declined the offer to train and study at the University of Idaho because of his poor command of the English language - to celebrate the gold medal, certainly the jewel in the crown of track and field.
So great was the prestige attached to the double victory that Nazmizan was handed the chance to train overseas. He came under Michael Johnson’s wings in Texas ahead of the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Based at Baylor University, Nazmizan was monitored by Johnson's personal coach, Clyde Hart, who along with the multiple Olympic champ, believed Nazmizan's physique was more suited to the longer dash. He ran a poor race in Athens, though, in the same heats as Jamaica's Asafa Powell who days earlier had finished fifth in the century dash.
Injury and other factors came into play between 2005 and 2006. Uncertain about his future, Nazmizan quit the track scene and uproot himself to Perlis. The heady days of climbing the podium and rubbing shoulders with the who's who in track and field have gone.
But Nazmizan is drawing strength from the past for one final hurrah as he seeks to qualify for the Laos SEA Games.