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Ivan Mauger - The Greatest?
By Tracy Holmes

Ivan Mauger

Is Ivan Mauger THE greatest rider ever? Jason Crump says so "unquestionably" and Peter Oakes says it would be difficult for anyone to say otherwise. I disagree with both because IF he is, then he comes from the same pool of stars that includes Frank Arthur, Vic Huxley, Ron Johnson, Jack Parker, Tom Farndon, Bluey Wilkinson, Jack Milne, Cordy Milne, Vic Duggan, Tommy Price, Freddie Williams, Jack Young, Ronnie Moore, Peter Craven, Ove Fundin, Barry Briggs, Ole Olsen, Erik Gundersen, Hans Nielsen, Tony Rickardsson, Nicki Pedersen, Greg Hancock and Jason Crump himself.

Fans will be appalled that I have not included such names as Eric Langton, Bill Kitchen, Tiger Stevenson, Nigel Boocock, Peter Collins, Bruce Penhall, even Tomasz Gollob! [ Tai Woffinden is not up for consideration yet. Let's see what the next decade brings. ]

The reason I have not included that second pool is that I don't believe they quite belong in the first pool. "Oh come on! Collins and Gollob?" Yup, they dont 'quite' reach my first group which only shows what an elite group that is.

Ivan told me that Vic Duggan could not be considered the greatest because he never won the World Final. And while that is true, the 2nd World War may have made sure of that. The same applies to Parker. Good heavens, they both won the World Final equivalent immediately after the War, and Parker the 'Star' Final pre War. But my point is, it's not how many World Finals or GPs the rider has won.

By the time there was an official World Final to win in 1936, Huxley was past his best. And Vic Duggan qualified for the cancelled 1939 World Final where Cordy Milne was THE red hot favourite. When Vic did get to the World Final in 1950, despite still being a top-gun league rider, his 4 points reflected a shadow of his former self.

There is a much bigger picture and the title 'Champion of the World' may be the brightest piece but it is not the only piece. Ivan's ultimate focus was each years World Final and it paid off. He said that it didn't matter if he won nothing all year as long as he won the World Final. You can see how he won 6. He also said that World Final speedway was different than any other speedway and had to be ridden as such. The late Nigel Boocock said it mattered not if it was a World Final or second half at Canterbury, he rode them the same. The result? Ivan Mauger 6, Nigel Boocock 0.

That is not putting Booey down in any way, he is one of the sports ultimate legends but it's easy to see why he never won the World Speedway Championship. Peter Collins did but like so many before and after him, BIG injuries played their part in preventing any further wins.

So, let's play 'what if?' ; Tom Farndon had not been killed, no 2nd World War, Ronnie Moore had taken the World Final more seriously, Jack Young had taken speedway more seriously, Peter Craven had not been killed, Tommy Jansson the same, Bruce Penhall had not jumped into bed with Mickey Mouse, Erik Gundersen had not lost half his career by injury and Jan O Pedersen the same. Not forgetting Per Jonsson either.

Could any of these have reached the heights of Ivan Mauger? We will never know but it's great fun to speculate. So how does Ole Olsen end up in the same pool as Ivan? Where the World Final is concerned, it's Ivan 6, Ole 3. True but does that make Sir Ole half the rider Ivan was? Let's see.

The decade of the 70's saw Ivan Mauger and Ole Olsen THE biggest stars. Anders Michanek, Peter Collins, Malcolm Simmons and later, Mike Lee annoyed them frequently and Jerzy Szczakiel thumped Ivan twice to relieve him of his World Title in 1973. I am so pleased that Ivan has gone to great lengths pointing out that it should not have been the surprise it was, Jerzy really was THAT good! Between 1971 and 1973, Ivan raced Jerzy 13 times. The score? Ivan 7 - Jerzy 6! That should bury the cruel terms like 'fluke' or 'unknown Pole'. And one of the worst, "He should have been at one of Ivan's training schools."

In a recent interview with Jerzy, he pointed out the different attitude he had to many and how he hounded Ivan for advice whenever they were at the same meeting. His acquired knowledge was to pay off in ways he had only dreamed of!

But getting back to Ole, this may raise a few eyebrows; in his day, Ole Olsen won every individual 'Grand Slam' event while Ivan Mauger DID NOT! Well, just what are these meetings besides the World Final?

The 'Internationale' was huge in their day, spluttering in the latter part of the decade but Ivan won 3, a record he shares with Ove Fundin and Ole won twice. The British League Riders Final saw Ole win 4 to Ivan's 2. Barry Briggs won this 6 years in a row! They both won meetings like the 'Brandonapolis' and 'Pride of the East' but the other 'Grand Slam' was the CZ Golden Helmet. Say what? Just check the website to see how big this was and still is. The score? Ole Olsen 7, Ivan Mauger 0.

That's right, Ivan never got this one despite being invited to 15! He rode in 13, qualified for 11 Grand Finals and from 1972-76, was 3 times 2nd and twice 3rd. Ole's 7 is an all time record of this massive event that has been on the speedway calendar since 1964. And before that as a grasstrack event from 1929.

So my point is this, Ole Olsen can never be considered half the rider that Ivan was! And the same has to be said of every rider in that first pool especially Ove Fundin! 5 times winner of the World Final and 11 medals from his 15 appearances. Compared to Ivan's 6 wins and 10 medals from his 14 appearances.

Granted, Ivan is the only rider to have won 3 in a row, 1968, 69 and 70. Hans Nielsen did 2 then lost the run-off, 1986, 87 and 88. [ Hans lost 2 Gold Medal run-offs to Erik Gundersen; 85 and 88. ] Winning again in 89. Hans went on to win the first GP in 1995.

How about Barry Briggs? 18 appearances, 4 wins and 10 medals ! The FIM in their infinite wisdom killed off the World Final so we will never know if these records could have been equalled or broken. It is fitting that Tony Rickardsson won the last 'one-off' and went on to win 5 GPs. And his achievements for his day are right up there with Ivan's as had been Hans Nielsen's.

So Jason, is Ivan 'unquestionably' THE greatest? And Peter, has it been that hard to put up an argument against his exclusive right to this title? No. Not at all!

Is Ivan the greatest rider of them all? I think so but for me, if it was on points, Ivan has 14 equal with Fundin. Ivan wins the run-off. On 13 are Huxley and Duggan. What?! Where is Hans, Tricks, Briggo or Crumpy? Right behind them. The sticky tape in my scrapbook says so!

 

This article was first published on 21st February 2016


 

  • Dudley Jones:

    "I was privilaged to have watched Ivan many times and to have seen him race most of the late 1950's to 1970's stars. Greatness may be measured in many ways... fastest, best overtaker, most consistent, most decent, best strategic rider. Ivan was one of the greats of all time and it is, for me, difficult to compare him with Vic Duggan, Tom Farndon and others who rode before WW2 or each side of it. I can better judge Ivan against those he competed with.

    My all time greats include Ronnie Moore, Over Funden, Barry Briggs, Peter Craven, Jack Young, perhaps Olle Nygren, Igor Plechanov. Then there are Peter Collins, Ray Wilson. It gets complicated, because we cannot judge by World Chapionships alone, but they tell us much about the ability to manage stress at the highest level. I will limit my comparisons to the above.

    Ronnie Moore had huge natural talent, top for skill but perhaps an under-performer when that talent is compared with only two World Champion wins. Peter Craven died too young to challenge Mauger, but as a spectacle Little Peter was tops. The same applies to Tom Farndon, sadly. Split Waterman was a showman, but perhaps not a Mauger beater. Peter Collins and Ray Wilson never enjoyed the long term consistency to become my contender. Jack Young was a huge talent (I am told) but perhaps not committed enough to comapare with Mauger.

    Mauger was very 'professional', his kit, his approach are probably unbeatable. However, I admire most the man who can 'do it' as it comes, perhaps with less 'professionalism'. This brings me to true talent. I have always admired Nygren, who I feel could have been Champion, and could have had more greatness. He did not seem, to me, to have the will or desire to be World Champion'...but I would never rule him out against Mauger, despite Olle's greater years.

    I am left with three, Briggs, Fundin and Plechanov. To me Igor was one of the greatest ever and at their relative peaks (Igor was an 'old man' when he hit the top) I would have backed Igor to beat Mauger time and again. Briggs was tough and hard... and very good. I would rate Briggs as the equal, at least, of Ivan, provided the start was fair. Ove Fundin was superb and a true superstar of all time. I would put my money on Ove, in his prime (or maybe later) to beat Ivan, even if Mauger got away from the tapes. Therefore, while acknowledging Ivan's greatness, I would have to put Briggs, Fundin and Plechanov as greater than Ivan. "

  • Anthony Williamson:

    "Good article Tracy. I never would have Ivan as my favourite speedway rider, far from it. But is he the best, without a doubt. Again Ove Fundin, not liked by too many people outside Norwich, but what a great rider. Third place goes to Ole Olsen. Someone who I don't think got a mention in your article but a very good rider still Greg Hancock.It is great we all have our own opinions but if people are honest I think Ivan would come top of most lists."

  • Eric Marchment:

    "Having watched speedway since 1935 and in particular being a big fan of Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs and Peter Craven amongst many others; without doubt the greatest of them all was Jack Young. Regardless of how many titles other riders have won Jack Young could have beaten anybody in any era, I am doubtful that he would have had the dedication to do the G P series, he would probably have found them tedious. As interesting as the GPs are, they are a pale shadow of speedway racing compared to the excitement generated by a one off Wembley final."

  • Bill Elliot:

    "Loved the article by Tracy Holmes about Ivan Mauger. It's always difficult to make comparisons across different eras, but certainly in my 50 years or so of watching the sport, for me Ivan was head and shoulders above everyone else. He was always the man to beat in the big individual meetings, he was usually the hate figure when he came to town with his team (a back handed form of complete respect by home fans), and it was news when he didn't complete a maximum when he was at his peak. He rode in an era when there were 3 genuine heat leaders of great ability in every team, but still usually beat them all, especially in heat one when he'd go out and give his side a flyer. He improved every team he raced for in terms of improving attitude and confidence, and if you had ever to stake the mortgage on some one winning a race at any track, against any opposition, he would have been that rider. No contest for me, the greatest ever rider it's been my privilege to watch!"

  • John Stock:

    " This is yet another very interesting article. None of Tracy's assertions can be contested. As I said recently, in one of my contributions, it is another submission that does rake up some of the old chestnuts, but it matters not. In writing Tracy has also submitted one or two welcoming "straighteners" e.g. Szczakiel was NOT an unworthy World Champion.

    The record books clearly show that Szczakiel was an accomplished and consistent international performer. And this was in an era when Iron Curtain riders did not enjoy the best of anything. They never enjoyed, amongst many other things, the liberally available, high quality food, tools and equipment etc. that did their contemporaries from the free World. By doing so subsequent winners had the World at their finger-tips. But as ambassadors of the sport various of them were abysmal. The behavior of at least one was scandalous and one other was hardly ever seen again within international speedway. It is perhaps another reason why comparing riders, from different eras, is of only so much value.

    But with direct reference to Mauger I do sincerely feel that if he had have competed within the modern era, as a GP rider, his tally of World titles would have exceeded six. I can think of no other rider who the GP's would have suited more. "

  • John Hyam:

    "I looked with great respect at Eric Marchment's post - after 81 years of watching speedway - he first saw it in 1935, one can only accept his support for Ivan Mauger as the greatest rider of them all. It must have been wonderful to have seen the likes of Jack Milne, Eric Langton, maybe Tom Farndon at their peak in the 1930s, then spiral on over the 81 years through the likes of Vic Duggan, Jack Parker, etc to the modern era. With 81 years of watching to his credit, I am not prepared to make claims now for any rider. As I only saw my first meeting at New Cross in April 1946 - a mere 70 years ago - and 11 years less than Eric Marchment, I will not make any claim of a defeatist nature re Ivan Mauger and his placing as the 'best of them all.'"

  • Martin Rogers:

    "There is a cottage industry devoted to questioning and undermining the way certain greats of the sport are remembered but Ivan had a point and all world champions under whatever arrangement and in whatever era could do no more than win titles according to the requirements of the day. Arguably individual event wins are just one other yardstick to be applied to this debate but then so too is a record of consistent supremacy in league racing - which in the Mauger/Olsen years means the British League. Some of those stats are worth revisiting. Incidentally, I think there is a long list of 'old-time' world champions convinced they would have won more titles during the contemporary Grand Prix era!! Clearly, they couldn't all be right about that ..."

  • David Lewis:

    "This is always a difficult one, isn't it? I don't subscribe to the view that "comparisons are a waste of time", it interests people & creates debate. The truth is, it is very difficult to compare riders of a different era, or even the same era as so many factors play a part. There are so many "ifs, buts & maybes", it's impossible to be certain of ones assertion, after all, it can only ever be an opinion. You could argue a case for virtually any top line rider to be the greatest, based on any given category or attribute.

    That said, one must measure a sportsman's greatness by his success, surely? There are clearly other considerations than world titles, but that has to play the biggest part. For example, PC in his prime (74-78) would have been untouchable & could easily have won 4 titles straight had he been dealt some good luck instead of bad, but how many riders could you say that about? Several, including those we tragically lost, such as Tom Farndon & say, Tommy Jansson, to name two.

    You could probably find a hundred people who would argue they would have achieved true greatness but for fate intervening, but the truth is, you cannot know that about any rider who lost their life or had a career cut short through serious injury - the list is endless. No, you can only consider those who had a career long enough to accrue some sustained success.

    If greatness is measured by success, I think you would hard pressed to argue any case against Ivan Mauger. Six world titles is pretty fabulous in itself, but Ivan's carer was about so much more than just amassing those six world championships. He also won world long track titles, pairs, & a WTC title for New Zealand, who had no real right to win it & wouldn't have but for Mauger. He also turned Belle Vue from also rans into multi title winners & then turned Exeter from chumps into champs with a mediocre team & almost did the same to unfashionable Hull. he was a legend as a leader of men, a man who turned team riding into an art form, he also brought the best out of those around him & turned average riders into title winners by instilling belief into them. He thought of everything, it is well documented that when he joined Exeter in 1973, of all his talks over his oining, less than 10% of those discussions centered around money. he left nothing to chance, machinery, management, team mates, travel, fitness, mental strength, the list is endless.

    As a complete rider, it is almost impossible to look past him as the best there has ever been. His drive, commitment & ambition to win & to turn those around him into winners drove him & the trappings of his success are obvious. There has never been & will never be another like him in the sport. He was light years ahead of his time in terms of his approach & professionalism, no one has or will come close.

    He was never one of my favourites, even though I watched him every week in my formative speedway years, but even so, no one can convince me there has ever been anyone better, all the more remarkable when you consider he tried & failed once & had to return home & that, in truth, when compared to many, many others before & since, he wasn't blessed with huge talent, but made up for that in hard work, dedication & drive. If you have any doubts about the greatness of thee man, read his book, it will leave you in no doubt as to where he stands in the speedway hall of fame."

  • Geoff Langley:

    "As much as I enjoyed reading Tracy Holmes excellent article and the well thought out comments many others made, I do feel it is a futile discussion to argue who is the greatest. Ivan himself said if there was no Barry Briggs there would be no Ivan Mauger, He said he spent hours working out how to beat Briggo because he knew that he had to do that to become World Champion. Equally Briggo was inspired by Ronnie Moore. Equally other riders like Bruce Penhall, Eric Gundersen and Hans Neilsen looked at Ivan's techniques and took then to the next level,, then others followed their skills.

    In short every great rider learns from his predecessors and inspires his successors. You have to compare like with like and I don't think it is realistic to compare different generations of riders. The most you can say, in my opinion is that Ivan was the best rider of his generation, as long as you allow the previous generation to claim Briggs , Fundin and Moore, and class Penhall and Gundersen as following generations. In short just enjoy them all for what they were. "

  • Dave Taylor:

    "Can't remember where it was but I read somewhere years ago that Ivan once came out in different leathers for every race of the meeting "to please the fans". What a great gesture. "

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