Crump's day of reckoning
After a season of supreme action, the 2004 Speedway World Championship will reach its climax in Norway on October 2 -- with Australian wiz Jason Crump holding all the aces.
The 10-time GP winner enjoys a healthy 17pt (147 to 130) lead over Sweden's Tony Rickardsson after eight of nine rounds, making them the only two riders capable of hoisting the 2004 trophy.
Now, all that remains for 29-year-old Crump, who has made the final in six of the eight 2004 GPs on his factory Jawa, is to extinguish the Rickardsson challenge at the Viking Ship Stadium in Hamar, which would make him the sport's 31st world champion since 1936.
To guarantee that 'Operation Rickardsson' is a success, Crump has to garner a minimum of 9pts to take him out of his great rival's reach, which history suggests should be a fait accompli for the Northhampton-based Australian.
Hitherto, Crump's lowest score in 2004 has been 8pts, and the three-time championship runner-up has made it through to the semi-final stage (at least 11pts) in seven of the eight rounds. Moreover, he has made it through to the semi-finals in the only two Viking Ship Stadium-hosted grands prix -- for a fourth in 2002 and equal seventh in 2003.
Another permutation this Saturday night is on the basis of an 8pt haul for Crump, which would move him onto 155 -- a score line that Rickardsson could only draw level with by winning his second GP of the year. That would necessitate a run-off to decide this year's world champion.
The machinations of this year's final round bear a striking resemblance to the equivalent event in 2001 -- but that time Rickardsson was in the box seat over Crump. Rickardsson went into that decider 18pts in front of the Australian, which was trimmed to eight after Crump won his second GP in succession.
However, the wheel has finally turned and, with this Saturday night's brief clear in his mind, Crump is on the cusp of making his 59th career world championship GP something very special -- and he's aware of the significance.
"My whole focus has been on this weekend, because this is the opportunity that I've been waiting so long for," said Crump. "The last few weeks have been pretty low key as far as my domestic league commitments are concerned, but now it is time to complete the job in Norway.
"I haven't prepared any differently for this meeting, because there's no point in tinkering with a formula that has worked so well all year.
"I want to enjoy the off-season this year, and what better way to do that than as world champion."
The Norwegian round of the speedway title has produced eight different finalists in two years, with American Greg Hancock winning last year's event from eventual world champion Nicki Pedersen - whose reign at the top will officially end on Saturday night -- Bjarne Pedersen and Andrea Jonsson. In 2002's inaugural staging, Rickardsson was the victor from Australian Ryan Sullivan, Mikael Karlsson and Crump.
Hancock is currently third in the world championship on 117pts, and with his recent penchant for completing campaigns on a high -- he also won the final round in 2002 -- he will still harbour ambitions of displacing Rickardsson out of second place. That slim hope also holds for Aussie Leigh Adams (115pts), who is currently sitting in fourth from Nicki Pedersen (100).
Victory for Crump in the final round would not only make him just the fourth Australian to win a world championship, but he would join Rickardsson as the only rider to win three GPs in one season.