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MOTORCYCLE RACING : Ermolenko Overcomes, Retains Title


A year ago, when Sam Ermolenko held the national championship trophy aloft at the Orange County Fairgrounds, it was the crowning achievement of the triple crown of speedway racing.

He had returned from Europe to earn the title after winning the World Final and competing on the victorious United States team in the World Team Cup.

Saturday night, he retained his U.S. speedway title before 8,723 at the Fairgrounds' track and, while the victory only salvaged a disappointing season, he was beaming.

Ermolenko, a 33-year-old native of Cypress, seriously injured his leg in a crash in the British League two weeks after winning here.

"My season has been below average," said Ermolenko, 13th in the World Final in August, "but I worked my butt off to rehab to the point where I could sort of fake my way through this season."

Ermolenko managed to return to top form Saturday night. He finished second in his first heat--16 of the top riders in the country each compete in five four-man races--and then won his next four races.

He outlasted everyone in the final heats and won the last race going away.

"Coming back here from the bigger tracks in Europe is always a test," said Ermolenko, who will race in England on Wednesday, "but I was really pumped up tonight. This is really a great feeling. It's a reward for working so hard."

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