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Sam Ermolenko

Sam Ermolenko

Guy Allen 'Sudden Sam' Ermolenko (born 23 November 1960 Marywood, California, U.S.) is a former Speedway rider. In 1993 he won the Speedway World Championship in Pocking, Germany. He is the older brother of Charles 'Dukie' Ermolenko who also rode in the UK.

Early career

After originally showing an interest in Motocross, Sam began riding in the Californian speedway circuit. As he wore red leathers, former World Champion Barry Briggs suggested the nickname of "The mad Russian" (Due to Sam's family roots) although it is believed this is not something Sam himself was keen on.

Coming to Europe

After some liberal success in California, Sam moved over to the UK to race for the Poole Pirates for the 1983 British league season. He soon become a big hit with fans in Dorset and was welcomed back in 1984. In 1985, Sam could not agree a deal to return to the UK so raced back home in California. He did however qualify for the World Final at Bradford's Odsal stadium and came within a whisker of winning the World Title, narrowly loosing out after a run of with Danish duo Hans Nielsen and (eventual winner) Erik Gundersen

Wolverhampton Wolves

In 1986 (and until 1995) Sam returned to the UK to ride for the Wolverhampton Wolves in the British league. It was at Wolves that Sam established himself as a genuine World Class rider. He finished third in the World again in 1987 in Amsterdam (the first & only year when there was a two day world final - Sam was leading after day one) and fourth in 1988 World Final in Vojens, Denmark. Many tipped Sam for World title honours in 1989, however a horrific injury whilst racing long track meant that he would sit out the 1989 & 1990 world title races. Sam did however lead the USA victory in the World team cup in 1990. Bad luck and injury meant Sam missed out on individual world honours in 1991 & 1992. However he Captained Wolves to the British League title and was crowned British League Riders Champion in 1991 & won both the World Pairs & World Team cup as USA captain in 1992.

World Title year

The 1993 season was supposed to see the last of the 'one off' world finals before the Grand Prix was introduced (this was not the case and the GP system did not begin until 1995) Sam was again one of the pre season favourites. At the world final in Pocking, Germany, Sam had a fantastic start to the meeting winning his first three rides. In Heat 15 Sam met fellow title contender and three time World Champion Hans Nielsen. In the first staging of the race, Nielsen was adjudged to have knocked Sam off of his machine and was excluded. In the re-run Sam shed a chain entering the first bend, however fellow American Billy Hamill ran into the back of him and the referee controversially ordered a re-run with the three remaining riders. Sam & many others felt he deserved this slice of luck after all the bad luck in previous world title attempts. Sam duly won the third staging of the race and after gaining an unbeaten 12 points from his 4 rides, Sam could afford the luxury of coming last in his final outing & still be crowned World Champion. After his World final triumph, Sam was virtually unbeatable. He again led the USA to Pairs and Team cup glory. At the latter, he beat his old enemy Nielsen in a last heat decider on the Dane's home Coventry circuit. He was also unbeaten as the USA whitewashed England in a 3 match Test Series. It also looked as though he would again lead Wolves to league title triumph however, cruelly, a broken leg put an abrupt end to his season and this combined with injuries to other key members of the side, meant Wolves narrowly missed out on winning the league to the Belle Vue Aces.

Defending Champion

The 1994 season started late for Sam as he recovered from the previous seasons injuries. He did again qualify for the World Final (in Vojens) winning the Overseas title on route. However luck again deserted him and after a controversial exclusion in his opening ride, Sam scored only 6 pints to finish way down the field. The season did finish on a high note though, as he led Wolves to a respectable third place finish in the league & won the British League riders Championship again.

Grand Prix & later years

1995 saw the inaugural Grand Prix season. Sam started his first Grand Prix campaign slowly but after a stronger finish to the season, he finished third in the World. 1996 Was Sam's second and final year in the GP series, finishing 1 place below automatic qualifying place for the next years series. He did though once again win the British League Riders Championship in 1996, this time representing Sheffield Tigers. Sam did attempt to qualify back into the GP's in future years but unfortunately never made it. He did however continue to figure prominently in the British league. Sam retired in after the 2005 season where he rode or the Peterborough Panthers. In 2006 he staged a Farewell meeting at Wolverhampton's Monmore Green stadium. It was a fitting tribute to one of the sports greatest ever riders.

Speedway Grand Prix results

Year Position Points Best Finish Notes
1995 3rd 83 2nd 2nd in Denmark and Great Britain
1996 9th 52 4th

Since retirement

Sam currently works for Sky Sports in the UK as a trackside reporter and occasionally works inside the studio.

References

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