HANGZHOU, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom has often found himself playing the role of the "second fiddle," away from the spotlight.
In Malaysia, where cycling boasts a strong following, Azizulhasni Awang, a two-time Olympic track cycling medalist, is the name no rider could escape. The man known as the "Rocket Pocketman" is a formidable force in his country.
However, on the eve of the Hangzhou Asian Games, the 35-year-old suffered an injury unfortunately during training, which forced him to withdraw. Fate, it seemed, thrust Shah into the center stage.
Since 2013, he had been competing alongside Awang, who served as both a mentor and friend, offering valuable guidance over the years. Yet, Shah had never managed to win an Asia-wide championship, and he was determined not to be relegated to a minor role any longer.
"I've been working really hard to chase that championship because I've missed it many times," he stated.
The Hangzhou Asian Games presented Shah with a golden opportunity to surpass his senior counterpart. Even the Malaysian delegation seemed to be "orchestrating" this dramatic shift in the limelight.
During the Asiad opening ceremony this time, the 27-year-old walked at the forefront of the contingent as one of the flagbearers.
"I've participated in many big events, including Tokyo 2020, but I've never been a flagbearer. I must set a good example and show the fighting spirit," he remarked.
Throughout the days of training and competition, the Malaysian remained reserved and focused. He secured a bronze medal in the men's sprint on Thursday, meeting his expectations.
He would have another chance to shine in his preferred discipline on Friday, the Keirin, and he aims to make a strong push for the gold.
"In the Keirin, everyone has a chance, and I believe if I give my best, I have a shot at the gold," he noted.
On the sidelines of the Velodrome, the only other rider who caught Shah's attention with occasional shouts and encouragement was his younger brother, Muhammad Ridwan Sahrom.
The 21-year-old had looked up to his older brother as an idol since his early years, setting the goal of reaching the same level in track cycling and tirelessly working towards it.
"There's no doubt that my brother's achievements have motivated me," said Ridwan.
The Hangzhou Asiad marked Ridwan's debut in a major multi-sport event, and he often found himself grappling with pre-competition jitters. Just as Awang had done for him in the past, Shah now offers guidance to his younger brother.
"I told him that young athletes shouldn't feel any pressure and should learn to enjoy the game, and then you'll perform well," the 27-year-old shared.
Ridwan seized the opportunity to further elevate his performance on the Asian Games stage. He displayed impressive bursts of speed in the men's Team Sprint, helping Malaysia secure a bronze medal through a remarkable comeback. He also unexpectedly made it into the top eight in the individual Sprint.
Seeing Ridwan and his teammates shine filled Shah with pride.
"Our team is like a family, and we celebrate each other's achievements," he expressed. "Unfortunately, Azizulhasni couldn't race this time. Now, it's my responsibility to carry on."