Malaysia: Azizulhasni Awang
Azizulhasni Awang following his horrific crash at the Track World Cup.
Place of birth: Dungun
Event: Track Cycling
Previous Olympics: 1
Previous medals: 0
Athletes are often required to go through the pain barrier in pursuit of sporting success but Azizulhasni Awang gave that a whole new meaning in 2011.
On February 18 last year he was looking to clinch his third consecutive keirin UCI World Cup title at the Manchester Velodrome. Going into the last bend of the final, the Dungun-born star was among a five-man group chasing Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy when he was involved in a crash with four of the pursuers that ended with a 20-centimetre piece of the track skewering his lower leg.
Incredibly, he managed to get back on his bike and cross the line in third place before passing out, unable to collect his bronze medal. He later had to have the piece of wood - described as a 'giant toothpick' - surgically removed.
"I didn't think much. After the crash, all I thought was about the UCI World Cup jersey. I needed to finish at least fourth to guarantee it, so I just got back on my bike and rode across the finish line," he said on his official website.
"I felt pain when I crashed, as it was a hard tumble. But I didn't realise the splinter had pierced through until after I had crossed the finish line."
The incident generated international headlines but it would be unfair if a man who has put Malaysian cycling on the map was only remembered for riding 30 metres with a shard of Siberian pine through his calf.
The 'pocket rocket', Malaysia's flag bearer at the 2008 Olympics, finished eighth in the keirin event in Beijing. However, international success soon followed as he took gold at the second leg of the 2008/9 UCI World Cup series in Melbourne in November of the same year.
That was the start of an amazing run for the 24-year-old. He became the first Malaysian to win a medal at the Track Cycling World Championships the following year after claiming silver in Poland in the men's sprint, having already sealed his first World Cup title.
His performances saw him included in the 'Road to London' programme, established in 2009 with the intention of securing Malaysia some Olympic glory.
He continued to fulfil his potential, winning another World Cup crown in 2010 and another silver at the World Championships, this time in the keirin.
Azizul then finished the year by breaking Malaysia's 40-year cycling drought at the Asian Games with keirin gold in Guangzhou.
Despite his woes in Manchester, he ended the 2010/11 season ranked world number one in the keirin after claiming a hat-trick of World Cup titles. However, the road to recovery has been a hard one for the Melbourne-based cyclist.
Azizul struggled in February's Olympic test event in London and finished well down the field. But his rivals know that nothing can keep him down, not even a 'giant toothpick'.
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