RIVALS CLOSING IN ON AUSTRALIA
KUALA LUMPUR, 21 Sept 98 (Bernama):
BY Naseruddin Wahab
Armed with a full squad comprising riders who have tasted action and glory at the highest level, the Australians came here determined to sweep all the 13 gold medals at stake. But it was not as easy as it seems to be.
After winning convincingly in Victoria four years ago with 10 gold medals, the star-studded Australian team had to make do with eight golds and lost out in a few events which were once considered their pet events.
Rivals Canada, New Zealand and England are beginning to improve on their performance, sending warnings to the Australians that the competition will certainly be tougher in future Games.
But most shockingly, Malaysia, for the first time ever in its cycling history, got to be in winner's list, joining the group of Commonwealth elite teams in the Kuala Lumpur Games.
Veteran road rider Nor Effandy Rosli must still be pinching himself after delivering Malaysia's first ever cycling medal, a silver, on the very first day of the competition.
All the hard work and the intensive preparation for the past three years has been worth it for the 31-year-old Kuala Lumpur rider, whose victory has certainly given Malaysian cycling a new lease of life.
"I've been working hard for the past few years, waking up as early as 5am and pedalling up to 900 kilometres every week. A lot of sacrifices... but it was worth it," said Nor Effandy who has set his sights on winning a medal in the coming Asian Games in Bangkok.
The Malaysian cycling team were not expected to deliver any medals in the Games here. But they proved their critics wrong with a stunning silver medal win with Nor Effandy outclassing world class riders.
The feat by Nor Effandy should spur the Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF), riders and officials to work even harder and set higher targets in the World Championships or the coming Olympics.
While the road race team, coached by former Asian champion Ng Joo Ngan, passed with flying colours, the track team failed badly and certainly need a major revamp.
"It's time for us to inject new blood and new approach in training the track riders. There's no use relying on old horses who have not been improving," said a top Malaysian official.
Meanwhile, Australia, gearing hard for the Syney 2000 Olympics, has unearthed a new star in Alayna Burns, the former world junior pursuit champion who is in her first year in the senior squad.
World champions Darryn Hill and pursuit rider Shane Kelly, who was clearly in a class of their own, kept to their promise to set new records.
Apart from the controversy created by the expulsion of world champion Lucy Tyler-Sharman who was sent home after criticising the team, the Aussies had a good outing, setting four new Games records in the men's sprint, 1km time trial, 3,000m individual pursuit and 4,000m individual pursuit. Canadian women rider Tanya Dubnicoff added another in the women sprint.
Canada, who won three golds here, are slowly becoming a force while New Zealand, with two gold medals, have good pursuit riders in their team to bank on in future Games.
Apart from Malaysia, Barbados, powered by Carribean champion Barry Forde, also had their first ever cycling medal after winning a bronze in the men's sprint.
The organisers should be given a pat on the back for the good organisation of the competition which saw some 650 officials working round the clock to ensure a smooth competition.
For Malaysia, who have been hosting several international races for the past few years, the Commonwealth Games here was indeed a huge success.
And more importantly, a history was created on home soil.