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Interview: Josiah Ng

As the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast of Australia approaches, we chatted with the 2010 CWG keirin gold medallist; Josiah Ng.

Josiah Ng is a retired Malaysian track sprinter, a keirin legend who raced the Japanese keirin circuit, and a serial entrepreneur.

We caught up with him to get some insightful info on his racing career and life story.

How did get into track cycling, and specifically sprinting?

JN: I started off racing criteriums when I was 14. I found that I excelled in the shorter courses and lagged behind my peers in hillier courses and road races. When I was around 16 or 17, a good friend of mine, US Olympic sprinter Johnny Barrios, took me to my first track session at the LA 1984 Olympic velodrome (Now torn down and replaced with the ADT Event Centre Velodrome). I was hooked on the first try and kept coming back every week.

It must’ve been tough coming from Malaysia and trying to penetrate the international circuit dominated by GB, Australia and the Europeans?

JN: It was very tough! Back in 1999, I was 19. I flew back to Malaysia to try out for the National Team. Back then they had nothing even resembling a high performance program. I had to build it from scratch.

You had a stint at the WCC in Aigle, how was that and would you recommend it to young cyclists?

JN: It was an incredible opportunity to close the gap to the world class sprinters and I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to train under the direction of one of my childhood sprinting hero’s. I received a full scholarship by the Olympic Solidarity program to train there for two years. I really thrived under that program and owe a lot of my success to it.

You made the move early on in your career to Australia, how did that impact your career? And do you think you’d have ended up on the same level if you had stayed in Malaysia?

JN: After departing from the WCC in 2004, I decided to go back to the States where I grew up and work with my former coach Mark Whitehead. Unfortunately things didn’t work out and I found an opportunity to work with former Australian National Team Sprint coach, John Beasley. I called him and after one conversation, he agreed to take me under his direction. I booked my plane tickets and within two weeks left my life in California and never looked back. I left Malaysia at the tender age of 6 as my family migrated to the States for my parents to pursue their education. My youth was spent in the states and is where I started competitive cycling. I doubt I would have gone down the pathway I did had I been raised in Malaysia.

Malaysian cyclists like yourself and Awang have had great success, what does the future look like for the young up and coming riders from Malaysia and South East Asia?

JN: We have developed a strong talent ID program and have some really strong up and coming riders. The future for Malaysian cycling looks very promising and I really can’t wait to see what the next few years has in store for us.

You were known as one of the best keirin riders out there, a tactical genius, how did you learn the craft of keirin racing?

JN: I was never the strongest rider from early on which made me focus on my race craft. If I wanted to win, I had to learn how to be the smartest racer on the start line.

You are a gutsy keirin rider, how did you learn to leave fear of falling behind and take on the big guns?

JN: There were a lot of situations where I found myself in the final of a big keirin such as the World Cup or Olympics where I was the only rider on the start line who hadn’t won a World Championship jersey. That always gave me extra incentive to prove myself. I loved being the underdog!

You also spent some time racing the Japanese keirin circuit, how was that and what did you learn while there?

JN: Racing in Japan was the best experience of my career, hands down! For me, it even topped racing at the Olympics. At the big games, there was always big pressure from my country, family and friends; but in Japan I raced for me! Even if I got last, I still made a lot of money. And if I won, I made a ton of money! I loved the Japanese culture and even the sub-culture in keirin. I made a lot of friends and got to race keirin the way it’s supposed to be raced (not in a straight line LOL). One of my favourite memories was my first time racing in the rain. I remember not being able to see as it was raining that hard. I ended up winning and celebrated not only the win but to have stayed up right!

Being part of the commonwealth, how big of a deal is the CWG to you?

JN: The CWG was a very big deal for me. It took me 3 tries until I finally won a medal (in 2010 in Delhi). I felt I was the luckiest guy on the planet that week as I wasn’t the favourite going into it. Two of the favourites (in the keirin where I won gold) were disqualified (Shane Perkins and my teammate Azizul Awang) and I was the best of the rest. It’s a perfect example of resilience – keep trying until you get lucky as they say. To top things off, I won a bronze in the TS and the prize money from my work that week was enough to pay for 2 containers full of Ford Mustangs which I acquired for one of my businesses!

Do you think athletes still take the CWG as seriously considering the shift to a more serious 4 year Olympic campaign?

JN: I believe that a majority of athletes that participate value the Commonwealth Games judging from recent FB and Instagram posts. A lot of them have been recently named to their squads and post photos of that accomplishment. It’s a very prestigious event and only happens every 4 years. It is also highly competitive. I’m willing to bet that every event will have multiple former and/or current world champions on the start list.

How have things like training, gearing, tactics, etc. changed since you started to how they are now?

JN: I’m glad I raced during the years I raced and not now. The speeds that the current generation hold are insane. It is mostly due to the gigantic gears everyone pushes. When I first started racing on the international circuit back in 2000, I was pushing a 93-95 inch gear! It would be closer to a warm up gear these days! Tactics have had to evolve due to the larger gears. It’s more of a drag race now and small mistakes are amplified.

What was your most successful approach to training?

JN: I treated every effort as if it was a race. It made training a lot of fun and benefited our whole training group.

You also had a great relationship with your coach, how important was that?

JN: An athlete/coach relationship is comparable to a family. Trust and alignment are paramount to success. I had 3 coaches in my professional career. I worked with American Mark Whitehead at the beginning of my career. He taught me most of my race craft and made training fun. Frenchman Frederic Magne coached me towards the middle of my career (at the WCC). He helped refine my discipline and professionalism. Australian John Beasley coached me for over half of my career. He took a more laidback approach which really helped me step up my game towards the last 3rd of my career. Why would I step up with a laid back approach? Because I got too caught up in all the hype of getting to the top which caused my passion for the sport to diminish. John is a very well rounded coach who prioritised a balanced life. The Malaysian team are very fortunate to have him lead them.

How did you get into entrepreneurship and business?

JN: I have been entrepreneurial since a very young age. My parents did me the favour of not spoiling me with an allowance. If I wanted something, I had to find a way of acquiring it on my own. What that did was equip me with a set of skills to hustle; teaching the violin, tuning pianos, teaching spin classes, buying and selling on ebay, etc. is what I did to survive during my teenage years. I bought my first bike at the age of 14. I remember enlisting my grandmother to help me bake 250 chocolate chip cookies which I sold door to door for $1 a piece. I saved the $250 USD to buy my first 2nd hand racing bicycle in less than a month.

You started off doing business while still pursuing your Olympic hopes, how did you manage/balance that?

JN: Athletes have a lot of free time. We train +/- 20 hours per week. That leaves a lot of time to be able to pursue education, work or business. I know a lot of athletes who fritter their time away with video games and social media. I chose to hustle instead.

How did you manage the transition from a pro athlete to businessman?

JN: When I made the decision to retire, I had 6 months left of competition. In between my training sessions, I job shadowed several people. I got started by approaching a few experts in fields I was interested in and asked them to lunch. I got to learn about network marketing from a top tier salesman, another guy acquired gyms going into bankruptcy. He turned the businesses around to sell for tidy profit. What really drew me was technology start-ups and venture capital. I met a very switched on gentleman by chance, who is extremely knowledgeable in hospitality, private equity, commercial operations, corporate structure, and business trends. He made even the dullest subjects seem interesting. We connected and co-founded a platform for private dining: Together we built a strategy, business processes, raised investor capital, and built a great team.

I’ve recently transitioned back to cycling as I felt a calling back to my number 1 passion in life. You could say I’m still transitioning. It’s a process that takes years. It’s been a very challenging journey but one that makes me appreciate my former career even more.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

JN: I always had an affinity for building things and making money.

Tell us more about some of your business ventures?

JN: 5bling gloves was started at the 2004 Olympics out of a conversation with my good friends Theo Bos and Teun Mulder. From that convo, I developed a specific aero glove for track cycling which is widely used in our sport.

Automobile Import/Export: I imported rare cars to Australia to be sold for sizable profit when I found out how much more sports cars cost down under. It worked well when the Aussie and US dollar hit parity. I purchased a few rare Mustangs with money made from winning Comm games. With money made in Japan keirin I went to car auctions in Japan to do the same.

Private Finance: I started a company that helps businesses with short term financing. It was very lucrative and one of my favourite businesses. Sending world class chefs to your home to cook for you and your guests in the comfort and convenience of your own home. I was the CEO (Chief Eating Officer LOL) and co-founded with 2 experienced businessmen. We expanded the businesses to all of Australia’s largest cities and attracted Michelin Star chefs on our platform.

Some would call you a serial entrepreneur, what would you say?

JN: The hustle never ends. LOL

Other than coaching and business, what else keeps you occupied?

JN: Exploring cafes and restaurants. Spending quality time with my partner. Watching Netflix. Fast cars! And of course collecting bicycles.

Do you still race?

JN: I still pin a number on for the odd race. I did a hilly 4 day stage race a few months ago which was a big shocker. I managed one podium result which was fun.

Where to now for Josiah Ng? Are you still as goal driven as always?

JN: I’m coaching the Thailand National Sprint team and helping them develop their high performance program. It’s a challenge as I feel like I’m starting from scratch but the goal is to repeat what we did with Malaysia; to go from nothing to a world class producing country in less than a decade. I’ve got a 5 year strategic plan. It’s aggressive but I’m optimistic.

Tell us something interesting or lesser known about yourself?

JN: I am a concert violinist and come from a family of talented string musicians. Everyone from my grandmother, father, aunties, to brother and sister all play multiple instruments at a high level.

If you could leave the audience with one piece of information about yourself, what would it be?

JN: I’m working on a book which is part of a series of books targeting elementary and Jr. high school kids called “Make it Happen”. Each book in the series presents a personal up close look into the lives of extraordinary people who have overcome great challenges and learned the skills necessary to realise their goals. Instead of publishing an auto biography, I preferred to use my unique story and perspective to inspire youth and young adults. It should be published in September/October later this year. Stay tuned!

I love to share about my experiences in life. Feel free to connect with me on my social media networks:
Instagram: @josiahcyclist

What advise do you have for young riders and entrepreneurs a like?

  1. Have a vision.
  2. Surround yourself with a team.
  3. Align that team to work towards your vision.
  4. Execute!

Thanks to Josiah Ng for taking the time to share these insights into his life with our readers.

By: Matthew de Freitas

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