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Elevating the national track cycling team across two continents with Coach John Beasley of the Sime Darby Foundation Track Cycling Team (SDFTCT)

All smiles from the cyclist. From left: Fadhil, Shah s & Anis cycling around Melbourne, Victoria

1. What is the current status of Malaysian track cycling?

We have the team split up into two groups; the Olympic team is here with me in Melbourne, whilst the rest of the squad are training in Malaysia. This came about because post the World Championships hosted in Berlin on February 26th to March the 1st 2020, we planned to give the team a two-week complete rest to catch up with family and friends before returning to Melbourne to resume training. We left the other athletes in Malaysia so that they could compete in the Tokyo Olympic test event which was due to take place early April of 2020, though to everyone’s surprise the Australian government locked down the borders midnight on March the 14th 2020, we were lucky because Shah only arrived back into Melbourne Australia at 9.30pm on the 14th of March, so just making the cut-off. What that means is that effectively we have two groups training now, one in Melbourne with the 2 athletes qualified for the Tokyo Olympic games, while everyone else training in Malaysia under coach Harnizam Basri.

2. Can you tell us more about SDFTCT’s role in developing track cycling in Malaysia and how has YSD assisted the team in achieving your goals?

Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has assisted track cycling immensely over three Olympic cycles; they have contributed funds to assist in the preparation of an elite team, to prepare for each Olympic cycle, this has helped the program immensely in many different ways, the first of which is to make sure we have the funding required to nurture and develop a small group of selected athletes to give them the best possible chance to develop into high performance athletes and to become the best version of themselves that they can become. We do this by supporting this group with a team of high performance staff. The staff are in the areas of athlete services, physiology, massage, nutrition, physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, high performance manager, high performance analyst, and coaches. My goal is twofold, one is supporting the athletes, the other is to work on developing world class athlete support staff, this is the biggest area that I see is the major void in Malaysian sport currently. So our appointed team of experts have not just been working with a high performance group of athletes, at the same time they are spending a lot of time upskilling, nurturing, challenging, though always supporting, a group of young retired athletes we feel have the qualities of becoming world class coaches. This has always been our legacy plan for Malaysia; we all believe that if we have quality coaches and support staff, Malaysia will continue to produce quality athletes for a long time into the future.

This is not where the YSD funding ends. Because of the YSD support, this has allowed a much greater budget to be used to identify, develop and nurture young athletes that are now in the National Sports Council of Malaysia (MSN) development programmes. This has directly come about because of the money saved by the funding that YSD contributes to the high performance programme. This has tremendously helped with the new generation of cyclists that are coming through the program as we speak; we are in a really good place at present as the young coaches have really started to develop. With that knowledge capture, the coaches are now turning out some quality athletes, who are being fed into the elite system. This is something that was desperately needed, though it has taken time to develop; in the past Olympic cycles we have always had to select a group of young development athletes who we thought had the physical capabilities to become an elite athlete, and take a punt on working with them in the hope that some of them will make it to the elite ranks of world sport. Some of these young athletes have thrived, whilst others have fallen by the wayside. The athletes who did not make the transition were always fully supported, though high performance sport is not for everyone, as it takes a lot of sacrifice, dedication, discipline and commitment to make it over many years, and not everyone is prepared or has all of those qualities and that’s the sad fact why some athletes fall short. It is not through having a lack of talent, as talent is just one component.

Moving forward, it will be so much easier because we now have high quality development coaches feeding athletes into the elite program now. The YSD contribution has been a massive one for us, so important in the overall development of the Malaysian track cycling programme. We would not have been able to achieve this without the help and support of YSD and its chairpersons and CEO, we cannot thank them enough for all of their generous support, though even more so, believing in our vision and strategy, we hope that someday YSD will get the recognition for their part in the development of the sporting landscape of track cycling within Malaysia. We, I am talking about our high performance cycling team, are very proud to be recognised as having the best sporting model within the Malaysian sporting landscape and this has come about mainly due to a very committed group of people whom I am extremely proud of.

3. How has COVID-19 affected both the SDFTCT and the preparation for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics?

I wouldn’t lie it has been very challenging, though I honestly don’t think it has effected anyone’s performance, we have had to adapt quickly from doing things that we have done the same way for many years, to doing things in a new different way, it has been a massive challenge though I think there has been some real positives that have come out of this new Covid 19 world we now all unfortunately have to live with. One of the biggest challenges for us was with Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom, living in Melbourne on his own. We have a big house that Malaysia rents for the athletes to live in whilst training at the high performance training base here in Melbourne. Shah has been thrown many challenges since arriving in Melbourne back in March 14th 2020, Shah has had to learn with living in isolation, so dealing with loneliness, depression at times, living through house lock downs for months at a time due to COVID-19 issues, were not easy things for anyone to have to go through, though most have family or friends around them to help them get through these challenging times, Shah found himself on his own isolated in another country far away from his family and friends, though has managed to come though this so far with a much greater maturity and focus.

In past years if someone was in Shah’s situation, I would have sent them home for while though this has not been something we have been able to do because of border closures. The other YSD athletes have been training out of Malaysia, we have had them living in a bubble in Nilai. This is what we have had to do so as we can continue to train through the lockdowns, we have had to set up a full gym at the track, with the help of National Sports Institute of Malaysia (ISN), this has been massively important as we can’t afford to have a stop start program as that would severely effect athletes development and progression and as everyone’s focus is on the short term, that being the Tokyo Olympics, we also have one eye on next year where we have two major regional games to prepare for, that being the Asian and Commonwealth Games, also we only have three years in the next Olympic cycle so it is imperative we can keep a continuous program.

The most exciting thing to come out of this pandemic, through all the hardship, has been the emergence of Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom maturing, both mentally and physically, he is now taking massive steps forward in both his everyday life, and also on the sporting arena. Shah for the first time has found some real self-belief; this pandemic has forced Shah to experience life out of his comfort zone, which in turn has really helped Shah grow and develop into a much more resilient person.

4. What are the changes in strategies that SDFTCT had to undertake to navigate the challenges brought about by the pandemic?

There have been so many challenges, the biggest is thinking our way through preparing our athletes for the Olympics without having international competitions that have always been a traditional way that we use to prepare athletes prior to major events.

We were faced with real challenges brought about because of lockdowns in Melbourne, to control the spread of the virus. We were forced to train for months at home because of venues being closed. Also, we were confined to a 5 km travel radius restriction, so we scrambled to purchase gym equipment to set up a gym for both houses, we have not gone back into a commercial gym since, which has been good for the athletes as it is less travel time for them so more recovery. We were also forced into substituting our planned track training sessions to now being done on an indoor trainer in their homes. There were also long periods of time where the only support staff the boys had access to was myself, so that made the athletes become better at self-managing their own bodies, instead of having support staff do that for them.

5. Have there been any silver linings for SDFTCT and the track cycling industry during these challenging times?

I can honestly say yes, out of the forced lockdowns and staff and athletes having to deal with living in a bubble has allowed us a much greater opportunity to upskill our staff, this is where we have seen the biggest positive changes within the programme. We have achieved this through weekly Zoom meetings where we have placed a lot of time educating and challenging the coaches and staff in a supportive and nurturing environment. This is where we have seen the biggest changes for the better, as before the pandemic the coaches and support staff would do what was required of them, though they would then disappear until the next training session, through the lockdowns we have planned education sessions each week, where we hosted workshops via Zoom.

We have used this time as positively as possible, we have had some great results come because of the staff and athletes being placed in forced lockdowns, having to live together in a bubble, as they have had no distractions and plenty of time to think about and reflect on what they are bringing to the programme and more to each training session - what they want from the programme, and put some real time into upskilling themselves, so they can become a better version of themselves, and a much better asset to the team.

This forced isolation is where we have been able to make some real positive changes through education via the internet.

6. What keeps you going despite all the uncertainties and obstacles?

The motivation of making some real positive change, helping people become a better version of themselves, at the same time helping Malaysia build a world class sustainable track cycling program. I love what I do; I am extremely lucky and proud to work alongside some highly motivated, very intelligent Malaysian team members, whose knowledge is second to none. I feel we have a great team and together we are making some great changes for the better, this keeps me both motivated and excited because we are in an uncertain changing environment, we do what we can amongst all its challenges, though we keep things pretty simple within our team, we plan well, execute and action that plan well, adjust the plan according to the challenges we are confronted with, and don’t get hang up on things that are out of our control, just stick to controlling our controllables.

7. What are your hopes and dreams for Malaysians track cycling and the local sports industry in general?

That in some small way, the local sports industry will help Malaysians realise that anything is possible if they dream big enough, as long as they are prepared to work hard and take action on those dreams.

I live in hope that the national sports federation could have a better vision for rolling out more systematic development programmes which would encourage mass participation within the school based system, also embrace a club system, setting up safe cycling facilities for recreational cyclists, and more sustainable racing culture throughout the country.

This is a massive job and a continuing disappointment for me. I know it will take a longer time to change the culture and mindset. However, we need to start sooner rather than later. We see some great things happening in some states around Malaysia where they have plans in place, but I want to see every state having the same goal and vision to support the national needs to produce Malaysian cycling stars. We have had some great success at the high-performance end of cycling. Thanks to the Government and the sponsors that supported the team - they play a very important role in our success.

8. What is your message to aspiring track cyclists out there?

Don’t give up on your dream, you are in a much better situation now than ever before within Malaysia, coaching knowledge is at an all-time high. The most important thing of all is just enjoy riding your bike, and have fun, and if that fun happens to turn into a career that is even better.

Anis, Shah and Fadhil attended a programme organised by YSD under the Community & Health Pillar
Muhammad Shah Firdaus Sahrom
Muhammad Fadhil Mohd Zonis
Anis Amira Rosidi
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Last Updated:
17 Sep 2021
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