The “Pocket Rocket” is headed back to Malaysia with a bronze medal in track cycling.

It sure beats an 8-inch long splinter through his calf.

Azizhulasni Awang survived the last-chance repechages in the Olympic velodrome Tuesday night, then weathered the uncertainty of whether he would be disqualified for sprinting too early in the finals of the keirin competition. But when the race finally began, Awang had enough legs to pass four of his rivals and finish on the podium to give Malaysia its first track cycling medal.

 

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Awang leaped in the air in celebration, something he certainly couldn’t have done five years ago.

He was taking part in a World Cup event in Manchester, England, when four of the six riders wiped out. Awang’s calf was skewered by a splinter from the Siberian wood surface, though he incredibly got back on his bike and rode to the finish to take the bronze medal.

Not surprisingly, he collapsed at the finish line. He was taken away on a stretcher and underwent surgery to remove the piece of wood. There’s video of the accident, but be wary: It’s not for the faint of heart.

 

Awang’s bronze medal was the third medal won by Malaysia at the Summer Games, along with silver medals in diving and badminton. And Awang hopes it helps inspire young athletes back home to take up cycling, which is known more as a means of transportation than sport in a nation of 31 million.

"I am a small guy from a small nation, but I came out with the big guys from the big nations on the podium," said Awang, who gets his "Pocket Rocket" nickname from his small stature. "When I started cycling it wasn't famous, but now that I've gotten better and at a higher level, the government is starting to pay more attention to the sport."

More attention to Awang, too. And for his success rather than his spectacular crash.