AMSTERDAM — Speedway motorcyclist Sam Ermolenko's bid for a world championship came up short Sunday as Hans Nielsen of Denmark won the World Final for the second consecutive year.
Ermolenko, of Cypress, finished third for the second time in three years in front of a crowd of 15,000 in Olympic Stadium. Ermolenko tied for second with Erik Gundersen of Denmark with 24 points but lost a four-lap runoff.
Nielsen was tied with Jeremy Doncaster of Great Britain for third with 12 points after the first round of competition, but he scored the maximum of 15 points Sunday to finish with 27.
Ermolenko was tied with Gundersen for first place with 13 points after the first round on Saturday night, but poor starts in two of his five heat races in the second round ultimately cost him the title.
Ermolenko led all riders after the first round of heat races on Sunday, but his second heat race against Nielsen proved to be his downfall. Nielsen had the pole position, scored a wire-to-wire win and was not threatened the rest of the day.
In his third heat, Ermolenko drew the outside gate (starting position) and was badly beaten by Gundersen and Jimmy Nilsen of Sweden, ending any hopes for the world title.
Afterward, as Ermolenko stood on the victory rostrum, he received the loudest ovation from the crowd.
"My gating (starting) wasn't really good enough for this type of track," Ermolenko said. "It was a hard World Final. I'd feel better if I was No. 1.
"In the runoff against Gundersen, he nearly suckered me into the tapes (caused him to make a false start). He plays that game so well, and that's something I want to learn how to do myself.
"On day one, somebody up there must have been looking after me because I was riding with a bike that had problems. I dropped points then because I was spinning out of the starts, but I had the horsepower on the straightaways to come back.
"The Danes were definitely suckering riders in the tapes at the gate, but I felt great on day two and really confident. I'm disappointed because I was almost there . . . again."
Ermolenko tied with Gundersen and Nielsen for first place in the 1985 World Final at Bradford, England but finished third in a runoff for the title, which Gundersen won. This is the fourth straight year that the world title has been won by a Danish rider. Gundersen won in 1984-85 and Nielsen won in 1986-87.
The Danes will be strong favorites for another world championship in 1988, when the World Final is scheduled for Vojens, Denmark.
This year was the first in which the World Final was staged as a two-day meeting, but the event likely will return to a one-day format next year because of disappointing crowds in Amsterdam.
John Cook of Roseville, Calif., the only other American in the final, had a better second day after he scored only seven points in the first round. Cook scored eight points Sunday, finishing with 15 points for eighth place.