KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- The announced death of Ivan Mauger MBE aroused loyalists’ nostalgia for the days when speedway was considered Britain’s No2 live spectator sport.
The New Zealander, who was 78, was a record six times world champion and the only man to have won the world final – then the pinnacle of the sport – three times in succession.
He was not the most flamboyant of riders or track personalities but he was the ultimate professional and, as his record proves, the ultimate champion in a sport memorably described by the late Ian Wooldridge, in the Daily Mail, as the art of placing the rear wheel ahead of the front wheel while continuing to travel in a forwards direction.
Mauger’s computer-like command of detail was such that once he deliberately allowed a couple of rivals past him in a world championship qualifier so he would not have to wear No13 in the final.
His greatest success was probably his sixth, in the vast old Katowice bowl in Chorzow, southern Poland, in 1979. England were looking to Peter Collins, Michael Lee and Dave Jessup, hosts Poland to Zenon Plech and Eddie Jancarz and Denmark to reigning three-times champion Ole Olsen.
Australia’s Billy Sanders won the first heat, Plech the second, Olsen the third and then Mauger – off gate one – the fourth. In the end, and in streaming rain, he demonstrated a mastery of the occasion, the conditions and his rivals.
Second time out, in his direct tussle with Plech, Mauger won with the Pole third. That proved crucial. Mauger was second in his third heat and won his fourth and fifth. At the end his 14 points placed him one ahead of Plech with Lee third on 11 after a run-off.
That proved Mauger’s last world final he did not formally retire until 1986 in Australia where he lived on the Gold Coast while always remaining a proud New Zealander.
He was inducted into the NZ Sports Hall of Fame in 1990 and carried the Olympic Torch into the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Speedway New Zealand ceo John McCallum described him as “a true New Zealand sporting icon” and the greatest speedway racer of all time.
Mauger totalled a then record 15 world titles in a variety of competitions including the world long-track (three times), world pairs (two) and world team (four).
Subsequently Denmark’s Erik Gundersen also totalled 15 and Denmark’s Hans Nielsen 22 though neither equalled Mauger’s six individual titles in the days before the world championship was converted into a grand prix. Sweden’s Tony Rickardsson would win one world final then five grand prix titles.
Ivan Gerald Mauger was born on October 4, 1939, in Christchurch, New Zealand, and represented Canterbury and South Island at both rugby and hockey at school level. It was in Christchurch than he began riding motorbikes as a teenager.
Mauger had a brief spell in 1957 with Wimbledon, where greats Ronnie Moore and Barry Briggs were blazing the Kiwi trail, but then did not return until 1963. Three years later, in 1966, he appeared in the first of his 15 world finals, finishing fourth. In 1967 he was third and then claimed his first world title in 1968 in Gothenburg.
All told Mauger amassed more than 70 titles while riding UK league competition with Wimbledon, Rye House, Eastbourne, Newcastle, Belle Vue, Exeter and Hull.
When Mauger won his third world title, two United States fans had his winning bike gold-plated. The “triple crown special” is now on display at Canterbury Museum back in Christchurch . . . where it all began.
** Ivan Gerald Mauger: born October 4, 1939; died April 16, 2018.