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Tales from the peloton, January 3, 2008
Malaysia attacks the track
The Malaysian track cycling team, consisting of five of the county's most talented sprinters under the guidance of Victorian coach John Beasley, is setting its sights on the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The team has spent the past week in Tasmania competing in the Christmas Carnival Series, which for the first time this year, includes a series of sprint events counting towards the UCI rankings. Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen caught up with the team's coach during the series' rest day.
Victorian coach John Beasley has been working with the Malaysian track cycling team for the past two years, since the Melbourne Commonwealth games in 2006. Under Beasley's guidance the Malaysian team hopes to deliver results at this year's Beijing Olympic Games and further down the track at the 2012 London games. "We have a pretty young squad, so we are looking beyond Beijing," admitted Beasley.
Results have come quite quickly, with the riders already winning three gold medals in the Asian Games in addition to young Risal Tizin's victory at the Asian Championships. Tizin's gold medal was Malaysia's first medal in a Asian Championships for 24 years and came courtesy of the hard work put in by Beasley and the squad. Beasley believe that these results are simply the result of the structure put in place. "If you take a nation that is not really good at anything and put some structure there, you will see improvements," he said.
These results, coupled with the string of strong performances by the riders in the last two world cups and at the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals, have left the team now thinking about this August's games of the XXIX Olympiad. "It was my goal, short term, to qualify the guys for the [Beijing] Olympics and it looks like we are going to achieve that," said a pleased Beasley.
Malaysia's government has its sights set firmly on removing its name from the list of third world countries and hopes its sporting successes will help achieve that by 2020. Cycling is a sport that the country has done reasonably well in, so it was an obvious candidate to deliver results.
Although Malaysia is a reasonably large country it isn't blessed with a huge cycling scene, with only around 200 riders nation-wide. This meant the government had to turn to other means of identifying talent to help achieve the results it desires.
"They don't have many registered riders in Malaysia, so most of them come from sports schools," Beasley explained. "They get TID'd [Talent Identified] from an early age and get split up into different sports."
While the system has worked reasonably well, Beasley believes that there are better ways to find and develop talented young individuals. "It was an old Russian coach that set up the current system, so it is a project that I am working on at the moment," he said. "I am trying to change how they identify potential riders, to get a better caliber of athlete."
Indeed all the riders currently in the track program, which consists of only sprinters for the moment, came via the TID program. "Risal Tizin is the only one who came from a riding back ground," Beasley said.
One of the Malaysian squad's talents that wasn't present in Tasmania is Josiah Ng, who has been spending time in Malaysia with his girlfriend and family for Christmas. Ng is the only rider currently in the system to have ridden the Olympics, having made the final of the keirin at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. "It's a big year for him so I am saving him for the bigger events; he is in Melbourne and is very dedicated to his training," Beasley explained.
The five riders on the team all live full-time in the Melbourne, Australia suburb of Brunswick, where they have a three story town house and access to a car for transport. They are all on a scholarship from the Malaysian Government, and have to look after themselves on a day-to-day basis. Beasley says that he thought long and hard about where he would put them in Melbourne, as feeling at home is an important aspect in achieving good results.
"I was mindful of where I put them," he said. "I wanted them to feel the culture and feel a part of Melbourne."
In an effort to combat home sickness, Beasley believes in sending the rider home a few times each year to visit family and friends. "If there is a family wedding or something like that, then they go home too, it's important that they don't get homesick," he explained, before adding that they have adapted to Australian life really well. "They probably know there way around Melbourne better than I do."
Beasley is a firm believer that riding a bike is not the only aspect that makes riders achieve great results. The coach believes a good network of friends and family is an important factor. "I treat them as part of my family," he said. "I think about how I would like to be treated if I was in a foreign country."
Islam is a prominent religion amongst Malaysians, a fact that Beasley is mindful of with his riders and takes this into account when designing their training programs. "Their prayer day is Friday, so sometimes they are a little late to training but that's fine, I respect that," he said. "They train hard on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and Friday is usually our easy day anyway. I am pretty mindful of that. They pray a little more than us Aussies, but apart from that it is pretty normal."
Another important aspect of track sprinting is tactics, which is why Beasley has brought in retired rider and his old protégé Gary Niewand as a tactical advisor. "The guys idolize him," he noted. "It's great to have his expertise. My side is the coaching side and Gary's is the technical side. Between us I think it is a great combination. I have tried to mould them into a Gary."
To date the program has been a success, with the squad taking some good results in the Tasmanian Christmas Carnival - including a win in the kierin by Azizul Hansi on the first day of the Devonport carnival. The team returned to Melbourne on December 31 and were straight back to training on New Year's Day. The next step on the program for the team is a trip to Los Angeles to contest the third round of the Track World Cup.
If results in Tasmania are anything to go by, the team will continue to build a competitive reputation that won't be discounted by the best riders in the world. Niewand certainly believes that the approach from other riders to the Malaysian squad has changed dramatically. "Before, you would put on a warm-up gear to race against the Malaysians," said Niewand. "Now you know if you're up against them you're in for a good hard race."
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Mark Gunter/www.pbase.com/gunterphotograph