As the son of one of Denmark's greatest sports icons, Jacob Olsen was born into the speedway sport. Therefore, it was a natural decision to step down as director of the Vojens Speedway Center at the end of 2018. After many years in the bicycle business, Jacob Olsen is thus fully back in the sport where he has been both a professional rider, coach and TV commentator.
By Ib Søby
There can be great advantages, but also great disadvantages, being the child of a popular sports star like Ole Olsen. Especially in Jantelovs Denmark, when Jacob, like Jacob, begins a career in the same sport as his father.
- I think it was a little 50/50. When I started driving 80cc, my dad was busy helping Erik Gundersen to his first World Cup in 1984. So I was not carried by my dad, but conversely, people knew who I was and that could open some doors for me.
However, attention could take over when Ole Olsen took his wife Ulla and the boys, Jacob and Torben, out to dinner at a restaurant.
- We never managed to talk together during the course, because people always came and had to have father's autograph and have pictures before we got some peace for ourselves. It was no problem now, just a finding that we naturally accepted as part of Dad's work, remembers Jacob Olsen.
On Monday, September 18, 1972, Jacob came to the world at Haderslev Hospital. Ulla and Ole, who lived in a small suburban house in Holmes Chapel in Manchester, had decided that Ulla should be in Denmark around the birth, while Ole himself was in a rush. He had sensationally become world champion the year before, and had to seek the title of Wembley in London on the Saturday before Jacob's arrival.
That mission failed, as you know, for Ole Olsen, who had an accident in his first heat, and had to take bronze thanks to Arch rival Ivan Mauger and Swedish Bernt Persson. On the other hand, he planned to win the Danish championship on the Korskrobanen near Esbjerg on Sunday, before taking Ulla on the dinner late that night.
Already a few hours after Jacob's birth, Ole was on the move again. He had an important run in Reading while the Danish media wrote that Ole Olsen had lost his World Cup but won a son.
Jacob was already riding a 50cc motorcycle as a three-year-old, but as he approached school age, around 1978, the Olsen family moved permanently to Denmark in a house by the Little Belt located in the beautiful Skærbæk near Fredericia. With this base Jacob started driving on the Vejlbybanen.
- Later we moved to Sommersted, but I chose to continue to be a member of Vejlby and run the youth speedway on the 80 cc team, says Jacob Olsen, who remembers togetherness and camaraderie as one of the most valuable in his young years.
In his final year of 80 cc, Jacob Olsen won the Danish championship, and was the year after, in 1989, ready for the big 500 cc motorcycles. Here he was number two at the Danish U21 championship in Glumsø, and a reasonable career as a professional in England seems quite obvious.
- I had my good friend Lars Lass as a permanent mechanic, and it all looked really good. Especially when we qualified for the U21 World Cup in 1990, remembers Jacob Olsen.
However, the final that was run in the then Soviet Union never reached Jacob. Shortly before, he had been hit by the aggressive food poisoning, Yrsinia, which put him completely out of the game for an extended period of time.
- It was hideous and I was really knocked out. I had been in top form and might have won the final, but was now almost chess-fed.
With stubbornness and determination, Jacob Olsen got the wheels going again, and had a good year at Coventry in the British league in the first half of the 90s. Here he was a teammate with stars such as Hans Nielsen, John Jørgensen and English Andy Smith. Often, he spent the winter months in Australia, with the speedway season blooming while Europeans shooting in the cold. Due to rule changes in the British league, he moved to Wolverhampton where he joined teams with American Sam Ermolenko and Swedish Peter Karlsson.
- It might have been a mistake to choose Wolverhampton at the time, but in any case, there were some other things that made me quit my active career as a 23-year-old, says Jacob Olsen.
His good friend and colleague Richard Juul was severely injured in a disastrous crash in Swindon, which completely caught Jacob's attention for many weeks afterwards. Jacob himself had crashed at the DM finals in Herning and had suffered a serious injury which required several surgeries.
- My own injury was one thing, but Richard's accident simply removed so much of my motivation and drive. For a long time I was in the thinking box about what to do with my speedway life. Juul won the precautionary return and now resides in England.
From an entirely different angle came an opportunity that Jacob Olsen had not imagined.
In 1995, the Grandprix series about the world championships in speedway was introduced, and it also meant new television agreements with the countries broadcasters who were interested in top speedway. It was Nordisk Film and the charismatic producer Heinrich Lund who developed the television concept for the whole world. To the Danish viewers, it was TV3 that showed the VM speedway, and they offered Jacob the role of co-commentator.
- It was a whole new world that opened up, and I was happy that I could be used for something else in the sport, says Jacob Olsen. Since then TV2 was on the field, and for a long number of years it was dk4 and DR who sent the World Cup and Danish league races with Jacob as one of the voices behind the microphones. At the same time he had become a dealer at Design Cycles in Odense, while there were also profits to train young riders in Odin and in his old club in Fredericia.
When Denmark's Motor Union in the late 90s was looking for a coach to replace Erik Gundersen, his eyes fell naturally on Jacob Olsen.
- It was a fantastic statement of trust, and I saw great opportunities to create a new era in Danish speedway. I had three goals; to make it attractive to run on the Danish national team, to create a new individual world champion and to win the Team World Cup.
Legend Hans Nielsen stopped in 1999 and a direct replacement as a lighthouse for Danish speedway, was not immediately clear on the scene.
- We started afresh by setting new standards for training sessions and organizational preparation. I built the national team around young drivers like Nicki Pedersen, Hans Andersen and Charlie Gjedde.
The breakthrough for the new generation came in 2002, when the Danish national team sensationally won the World Cup silver in Peterborough. It was in the battle against the strong Swedish and Australian national teams. The following year Nicki Pedersen won his first individual World Cup.
- I was very demanding and cash in my announcements. But often I could feel that there was no support for my methods at NERI, which probably saw things differently than I did. For example, they thought my phone bill was exorbitantly large because I felt the need to call and talk to the drivers when they had been out and about on the track, remembers Jacob Olsen.
In 2004 he chose to stop as a country coach to concentrate as his family with his wife Anette, her business with Design Bicycles and the role of TV commentator.
- I've always known that I would come back to an active role in the sport. With the reconstruction of Vojens, we can help create an important foundation for future generations. Speedway is a great sport that gives young people a maturity and a lifelong togetherness and camaraderie. Somewhere, this is not just about sporting results, but also about a form of cultural heritage in a well-functioning Danish society, says Jacob Olsen.