King’s Lynn Stars do themselves proud despite failed World Speedway League medal bid
- Credit: Ian Burt
The deafening noise created by the 7,000 or so Gorzow fans was enough to intimidate anybody.
The speedway-mad Poles did their utmost to roar the hosts on as they tried to turn up the heat on their fellow title-winning World Speedway League rivals. But what they hadn't expected was the only non-champions on the night, King's Lynn, to also fight fire with fire.
The Stars – drafted in after Elite League holders Poole Pirates' withdrawal – hadn't ridden on the continent since 2000. Some, like teenage protege Robert Lambert, had never appeared in Poland. So many predicted they would freeze on the grandest of stages. How wrong could they be?
A lukewarm opening for the huge underdogs saw Nicklas Porsing run a last in a race which was won convincingly by team-mate Niels-Kristian Iversen – wearing the colours of the hosts for the evening. Yet from the moment Rory Schlein burned past Krzysztof Kasprzak in the second to pick up Rob Lyon's men's first point they instantly set about proving they deserved to be keeping such illustrious company.
Iversen's replacement, 40-year-old Piotr Protasiewicz, further fuelled that belief when he came under Tomas H Jonasson and Matej Zagar to record the English representatives' first race win. And by the time Lambert, 17 – in only his second season no less – showed he wasn't going to suffer with stage fright by claiming an aggressively thrilling second in his opener you could sense the Stars were not prepared to be a mere side act.
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For the whole 20 heats, barring the odd race or fall, Lynn's five riders gave as good as they got. Sometimes it wasn't enough – hardly a surprise given some of the massive names on show. Yet there was no shame in losing to a superior, and in many cases, a more experienced opponent.
Lynn fought proudly, bravely and played their part in a thrilling spectacle. The way Schlein somehow fended off Iversen's constant advances in the ninth was typical of the dogged nature of the men in the white helmet colour's efforts.
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As the evening wore on it became apparent that a two-way tussle was going to ensue for the gold medal between Vetlanda and the home heroes. But the Stars never, ever, fell away.
Their ambitions moved on to claiming what should have been a deserved medal. With four heats to go, they held a six-point lead over Holsted and looked destined to bring something home.
Yet their rivals – who hadn't won a race all evening and were only still in it thanks to the excellence of former Star Nicki Pedersen – produced the most dramatic of turnarounds which Lynn, try as they might, just couldn't counteract. Lyon's side didn't buckle and wave the white flag though. Far from it.
In the 17th, while Rasmus Jensen was stunning probably even himself by crossing the line first, a tigerish Schlein pushed Janusz Kolodziej all the way only to pick up a third. He had ridden far better than the result suggested. Then Kenneth Bjerre's two points helped keep Lynn three ahead as Martin Vaculik made it back-to-back wins for the Danes.
In the penultimate race Lambert's last-gasp pass on Peter Ljung seemed as important as it was sensational. Lynn's lead was reduced to one and it all came down to the final race.
Vetlanda, three clear, were never going to lose their grip on gold with the sensational Tai Woffinden always likely to pick up something – which he did without really hitting top gear. So the interest was all about what happened in the battle for the final podium place.
After an exhilirating evening it was fitting that it came down to an all-or-nothing shoot-out. Once the ruthless Pedersen had pushed Protasiewicz so wide he almost ended up in the front row with the delerious supporters there was only ever going to be one winner. The veteran's only last of a classy display followed, while Pedersen charged off to chalk up his single success, and break Stars' hearts.
It was a cruel, cruel way to end a showing which had earned the Adrian Flux Arena's charges plenty of friends – and praise. That will count for little right now but when the dust settles Lynn, Lyon and his five riders should be mightly proud of their performance.
While they eventually left Gorzow with their heads bowed in disappointment, they should have stood tall. Because that's what they did all night in Europe when they were a credit to their club – in its 50th campaign – its supporters and most of all their country.
Final score: Vetlanda 36, Gorzow 34, Holsted 26, Lynn 24
Lyon keen to build on fine effort at Vue
Rob Lyon hopes his troops' spirited showing in Gorzow can set about an improvement in their away fortunes.
King's Lynn are unbeaten at home but have tasted defeat during both of their Elite League meetings on the road this season. A visit to Belle Vue this evening offers another chance to break their 2015 duck which has also seen them fail to pick up any points outside of Norfolk.
'It would be good for confidence and team morale to get something out of the meeting,' said Lyon.
'Hopefully the performance on Saturday can be a bit of a springboard for us to be able to do that. I know where the simple problems are, or where they have been so far, and what needs addressing internally to sort it out. Hopefully the time to start doing that will be Monday. Belle Vue is a track we've done reasonably well at in the past so hopefully we can pull off a good result.'
The Stars head to Manchester after just missing out on bronze at Saturday's second World Speedway League event.
Lyon added: 'The team deserved something out of that for the effort and the performance they gave.
'Nobody expected us to put on that sort of show with our team and we deserved third. I know Holsted will say it's over 20 heats but we were in front all the way through. It is totally gutting.
'But on a positive we did ourselves proud as a club and all the boys put in a lot of effort.'
Pictures and video all taken and edited by Ian Burt.