Astana Expo FIM Ice Speedway Gladiators World Championship Final 5 01/02 April 2017 – Heerenveen, The Netherlands
Twelve months ago the curtain fell on the iconic de Bonte Wever stadium in Assen the spiritual home of Ice Speedway in the Netherlands and for the past 45 years a mecca for fans from Holland, Germany, Great Britain and Scandinavia.
As the demolition contractors moved in, the organising club Stitchting Ijsspeedway Assen, were already hard at work seeking a replacement venue and they found this at the new Thialf Stadium in Heerenven less than one hours drive from Assen. There has been skating here since 1890 and the new stadium has been developed on the original location which in 1986 became one of the first covered speed skating tracks in the world. Ice speedway has been held here before and the track was the venue for the 1987 World Team Final.
The new stadium, officially opened earlier this year by King Willem-Alexander has a capacity of around 10,000 with excellent facilities for spectators and boasts a state of the art solar roof, which should make new Thialf self-sufficient in energy by 2020.
Next Saturday and Sunday the stadium will host the last round of the World Championship when the destiny of the 2017 world title will be decided and although the medal winners are predictable, the order of their finish and of the minor places is still to be raced for. The starting list and draw has been made and can be found here.
Current leading scorers are:
1. Dmitri Koltakov (Russia) 146
2, Igor Kononov (Russia)) 138
3, Dmitri Khomitsevich (Russia) 122
4. Dinar Valeev (Russia 109
5. Franz Zorn (Austria) 85
6. Daniil Ivanov (Russia) 79
7. Stefan Svensson (Sweden) 59
8. Günther Bauer (Germany) 56
With an eight point lead, Koltakov is in a strong position to regain the title he won two years ago but Kononov, whose only individual medal was his second place in 2011, has been riding well this year and has finished first in four of the rounds. Last years champion Khomitsevich seems destined to collect a bronze medal but with a possible 42 points available competition will be fierce and the ability to keep a cool head may prove crucial. As baseball legend Yogi Berra famously said, “it ain’t over till it’s over”.
Two times champion Daniil Ivanov may be out of contention but his pedigree cannot be ignored. He has not enjoyed a memorable season after suffering a shoulder injury in Almaty but he could cause an upset or two during the weekend. Young Dinar Valeev has impressed on his debut season and, although seemingly out of contention, can be expected to score a few points at the expense of his more experienced colleagues.
Franz Zorn has, once again proved to be the best of the western contingent but both Ove Ledström and Niclas Svensson have gained much experience this year and might be expected to press their claim for future selection with good performances here. Veteran Günther Bauer, silver medallist in 2003, should also be in the mix for the minor places.
Sweden’s Jimmy Olsen has had to pull out of the meeting as he has not recovered from the arm injury he sustained in Shadrinsk and his place in the line up will be taken by Timo Kankunen, the next nominated substitute. Wild Card will be local rider Simon Reitsma.
Racing starts on Saturday at 19.00 with the usual Sunday afternoon start at 14.00. FIM Jury President will be Mick Bates from Great Britain and Sweden’s Krister Gardell the Referee.
There is also the traditional Dutch curtain raiser in the form of the Roelof Thijs Trophy, a knock out competition featuring 24 riders starting at 18.30 on Friday 31st March.