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By Charles Peikey, VeloNews Technical Editor
Lately, Josiah Ng has become known as “the guy who beat Nothstein.” And beat him he did — twice. Sort of. But there’s a lot more to the 21-year-old from Carlsbad, California, than that simple label conveys.
In April, Ng did surprise Olympic sprint champion Marty Nothstein at the American Velodrome Challenge in San Jose, California. In a three-up, one-ride final, Ng caught his two opponents eyeing each other and charged. He got a great jump and for 400 meters held off Nothstein and Jeff Solt to take a surprising win. “There was a lot of luck involved, but that’s part of bike racing, too,” Ng said.
Later, Nothstein and Ng tussled twice for position, once resulting in Ng hitting the ground and the second resulting in Nothstein’s relegation. Theirs is not a friendly relationship.
The tension may have started in 2000 when, as Ng puts it, he “unintentionally embarrassed” Nothstein during the U.S. Olympic trials. Nothstein apparently underestimated his opponent, eased up in the first of three sprints and was caught by surprise at the line. Hard words were exchanged.
“I wasn’t going to beat him, I surprised him and I think embarrassed him a little,” Ng recalled. “He was talking about taking me down and [Ng’s coach] Mark [Whitehead] just pulled me out. It made sense, but both of these things have kind of grown beyond proportion.”
Ng, doesn’t let it bother him. “Once I’m on the track, it doesn’t really matter who’s there next to me. I have to focus on doing well.”
This season Ng is focused on doing well in the World Cup, where he’ll ride as a member of the Malaysian national team. Born in Malaysia, Ng moved to the U.S. when he was eight. He remains a Malaysian national, but has spent a frustrating couple of years applying for U.S. citizenship. “I’m an American,” he remarked. “In Malaysia, I’m still a stranger.”
Still, Ng said he has enjoyed riding on the track for Malaysia. His first World Cup experience — coincidentally at Malaysia’s World Cup event in 2000 — might suggest why. “I finished seventh in the sprint,” he said. “There had never been a Malaysian in the top 10 in any World Cup. When I made the quarter-final I was on the front page of all the newspapers. It was a big deal. Here, I think I’d be lucky if that would rate a short note in VeloNews,” he added with a laugh.
So these days Ng is splitting his schedule between California and the Malaysian national sports center in Kuala Lumpur. The facility ranks among the world’s best.
“They have a lot of money invested,” he said. “They have a full staff. They hire a lot of good people. It’s a great place … well, the only thing is the cafeteria. That sucks. It’s pretty much a choice of fish, rice and local vegetables.”
It’s a tough menu for a young man who until recently has maintained a strict vegetarian diet as part of his Seventh Day Adventist upbringing.
“I’m just now beginning to eat chicken,” Ng said. “Mark has been encouraging me to do that, just to maintain weight.”
At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Ng doesn’t look like a sprint specialist. His first coaches didn’t get that impression either. On the road, they said he would be a climber — he was even lighter back then. On the track, they said “the points race, but I wanted to be a sprinter more than anything. It’s all fast-twitch,” he said, referring to the make-up of his muscles. “Mark saw that and [in 1998] he took me to a silver medal at junior nationals.”
Ng has since focused entirely on his passion for cycling — even deciding to violate his church’s ban on racing on Saturdays. “Racing now is the biggest thing for me,” Ng said. “I had to give up some of the requirements, but I’m not giving up my religion. It still guides a lot of my thinking. I have never taken alcohol, never any drugs … I tried creatine as supplement, but I don’t think that’s right either. I’m really out to prove that you can do this all on hard work and heart.”
Ng’s long-term goal is an Olympic medal — preferably gold and won as an American. “I really hope I can go to Athens in stars-and-stripes.”
As for the man he may have to beat to get into those stars-and-stripes, Ng has somewhat mixed emotions.
“Well, he used to be one of my heroes,” Ng said, “and I have a great deal of respect for him as an athlete. After all, he’s the Olympic champion. But off the track? He’s not someone who I’d necessarily like to emulate.”