For 44 years, the speedway sport has named a U21 world champion. Such a title testifies to talent and strength. But it is a fact that only three U21 champions have also been able to adorn themselves with the title of individual senior world champion.
By Ib Søby
Denmark's most recent individual world champion is Michael Jepsen Jensen who triumphed in 2012, after a series of seven races for the U21 world championship. Michael's victory by just one point over Polish Maciej Janowski was brought home in Argentine Bahia Blanca, where FIM had laid the last two divisions.
An hour after he had been hailed on the podium, I asked Micheal Jepsen Jensen if he was aware that it was really only Australian Jason Crump who had won both the U21 and senior World Cups.
- Well yes, but statistics are only there to be broken, Jepsen Jensen replied with a dry smile.
And he is certainly right.
Since that night in Argentina, Polish Bartosz Zmarzlik has performed the same as Jason Crump, with Zmarzlik winning the U21 in 2015.
But it also has to do with the fact that Swedish Per Jonsson is actually also a member of this exclusive trio. In 1985, Jonsson won the U21 European Championship in Abensberg, Germany, and became world champion in 1990.
In 1977, the U21 Championship was introduced as a junior European Championship to give the many young talents a scent of the ranks of the adults. But 10 years later, the championship became an official World Cup. Most speedway experts, however large, and counts the first ten champions as U21 world champions, so therefore we count Per Jonsson in the club.
So there only the three.
Jonsson, Crump and Zmarzlik.
One can then expand this club with a small subdivision.
How many senior world champions have won a medal in U21?
In addition to Jonsson, Crump and Zmarzlik, the answer is: - also only three.
Tony Rickardsson, bronze in 1990.
Mark Loram, silver in 1992.
Chris Holder, silver in 2007 and 2008 - both after Emil Saytfudinov.
Said in another way.
Only six world champions, in 44 years have also won a medal in the individual U21 context. Neither Erik Gundersen, Hans Nielsen, Jan O. Pedersen, nor Nicki Pedersen have U21 medals hanging at home in their huge medal collections.
Hans Nielsen achieved two fifth places, while Gundersen had a fourth and a sixth place. Jan O got a fifth and a twelfth place, while Nicki Pedersen reached four U21 World Cup finals, and finished in places 15,12,11 and 4.
- The truth is quite simply that I was not very good in my young years. Maybe talented enough, but many of my contemporaries were better in their young years, Nicki Pedersen said shortly before the DM final 2020 at Vojens Speedway Center in connection with a talk with Mads Hansen, who just drove the U21 WC final a few days later - and in incidentally became number five.
It promises very well for Mads Hansen, if you think of Gundersen and Nielsen!
The former world champion, national coach and current youth national coach Erik Gundersen sees a big difference between the youth ranks and life as a professional, after a driver has turned 22 years old.
- To win YGT - the unofficial 85cc WC - or e.g. a title in 250cc, can both create a mental satisfaction, but also an unreasonable pressure of expectations from the driver's surroundings. Dreams and ambitions are not always in tune with the talent, and a U21 World Championship title can quench the hunger for several top results on the world stage, perhaps completely unconsciously, without the driver in question being able to acknowledge that fact, says Erik Gundersen, at the same time to how difficult it is to qualify for the Grand Prix series.
- It is an incredibly difficult eye of a needle to go through. A rider must be at the top of 3-4 major international races to reach the Grand Prix Challenge, where only the three on the podium redeem a ticket to the Promised Land, the following year. It's the harsh side of speedway, a trip in the starting tape, a crash or a broken chain - and bum, then it only takes just one more year before the chance presents itself again, Erik Gundersen explains.
Gundersen also points out that young speedway drivers under the age of 21 naturally lack a portion of maturity.
The U21 world champion from 1997 Jesper B. Monberg can sign it.
- As a 19-year-old, I was the sport's youngest U21 world champion until Emil Saytfudinov won in 2007. It went way too fast for me in my teenage years, and sometimes I feel like I was shot out of a cannon. Yes, already as a 16-year-old I was second to the U21 DM, and in a few years achieved more than many riders can dream of, remembers Jesper B. Monberg, who was also a reserve on the senior WC team, together with Hans Nielsen and Tommy Knudsen, who in 1997 won gold.
That was during the period when the U21 world champion automatically got a Grand Prix place the following year, and that experience became a tough one for Jesper B. Monberg.
- Yes, I was thrown for the lions in 1998. It was certainly not uplifting, because in those years they also drove with the knockout system in the Grand Prix races, so I was almost always out for the fifth heat!
On the private front, Jesper B. Monberg was hit hard by his parents' divorce and the safe family team was gone.
- It knocked my legs away from under me, and was perhaps an indirect reason why I smoked into a shower of injuries. A severe shoulder injury slowed me down for four months and it was at the worst time in my ascending career, says Jesper B. Monberg.
In the Grand Prix Challenge in 1999, a crash with British Lee Richardson cost a place in the Grand Prix series 2000, but Jesper B. Monberg still reached the top company in 2004, and was also running well in the Grand Prix Challenge in 2008, where it in Polish Zielona Gora became a 6th place with 10 points.
In 2005, Monberg became European champion in Italian Lonigo, and he had a great club career before the speedway bike four years ago was replaced with a wrench and work with plumbing.
Assistant national coach Henrik Møller points out the problem that many drivers are left to fend for themselves after the U21 period.
- Many talented drivers have been included in NERI's troops and in national team gatherings up through the youth years. They are suddenly left alone at an age where there is still a great deal of development going on. This can easily mean that some people lose motivation and grip, says Henrik Møller, who, like Erik Gundersen, points out the difficult path to the Grand Prix series as a big part of the explanation for why so few U21 world champions have repeated the feat as "adults". .
- It is logical that it requires a lot of experience to maintain a world-class level and that kind of takes time to build. With this, the clubs also have an important role, in addition to conducting league matches.
Henrik Møller is pleased that FIM in 2021 has introduced a new U23 team European Championship.
Denmark will run the semifinals in Austrian Neustadt and hopefully the finals in Latvian Daugavpils. It will be interesting to see what happens for some matches, compared to U21. Maybe it's better for the sport to move the border up to U23, just like you have in cycling.
In Denmark we still have a strong running Michael Jepsen Jensen - our latest U21 world champion. And even though that victory lies eight years back, Michael can still manage to win senior gold, albeit in 2022 at the earliest.
But Michael has the opportunity to join the small exclusive club with Per Jonsson, Jason Crump and Bartosz Zmarzlik.
Individual Danish U21 World Cup medals.
Alf Busk 1977
Find Rune Jensen 1978
Tommy Knudsen 1980
Gert Handberg 1989
Brian Andersen 1991
Jesper B. Monberg 1997
Michael Jepsen Jensen 2012
Morten Andersen 1991
Kenneth Bjerre 2004
Anders Thomsen 2015
Peter Ravn 1982
Ole Hansen 1985
Brian Karger 1986 and 1988
Jesper B. Monberg 1996
Patrick Hougaard 2009
Mikkel Bech 2012
Mikkel Michelsen 2014 and 2015
Only two riders have won World Cup medals, individually, in senior mode:
Tommy Knudsen, bronze, 1981.
Gert Handberg, bronze, 1992.