AMERICA’S FALL: CLASSIC DECOSTER
In 1994, America was unseated after a 13-year winning streak at the Motocross des nations. No one knows more about that event than Roger DeCoster. Here’s what he wrote about it in the December 1994 issue of Dirt Bike.
It was inevitable. For the past 13 years, we knew that the American Motocross des Nations team had to lose someday. As the U.S. team manager for the first 11 years, I felt the pressure to keep the streak alive. It was exciting, but very tense.
In 1994, England became the country to unseat the Americans. It was a close event–the margin of victory was only two points. The French team also was very close. I wasn’t the manager, but I know about the pressure they faced. Through the late ’60s and the ’70s, I was in a similar situation as a rider on the Belgian Trophee des Nations team. Back then, the Trophee des Nations was for 250s and the Motocross des Nations was strictly for 500s. The Belgians won the 250 class year after year, and up until my retirement, I had been on the team every time. After I left, the team won once more, then the streak ended at 11. Even though the pressure was intense, I loved it. I considered the des Nations events to be the Olympics of our sport–the final word on what countries and which riders were truly the best. I still feel that way. If I had not been chosen to ride during any of those years, I would have been disappointed, pressure or no pressure.
It’s interesting to see how people in this country react to this year’s defeat (or is it a lack of victory?). I have heard several people say that it’s the end of an era. They say that the days of American dominance finally have come to a close. I think the people who talk like that simply haven’t been paying much attention. This was simply the end of a streak. The era ended a long time ago.
When I think of the era of the Americans, I think of the ’86 team in Maggiora, Italy. David Bailey, Ricky Johnson and Johnny O’Mara rode in the 500, 250 and 125 classes, respectively. What a team that was. There was a certain electricity in the air around them. They won all three classes, but it was O’Mara who stole the show. Most riders don’t like to ride in the 125 class because you are forced to eat rocks and ride behind the bigger bikes all day. O’Mara didn’t complain–he just set about riding the wheels off his Honda 125. While Bailey led the first moto, Johnny O’Mara battled with David Thorpe’s 500, eventually pulling away and demoralizing Thorpe in the process. The ’86 Americans were a poster team for the era. They were the best of the best; they couldn’t help but win.
In the early ’90s, things were different. The air of unbeatability was gone.In 1990, it all came down on Jeff Stanton’s shoulders–he had to bump past Marnicq Bervoets to put the Americans on top. In ’92, it was the closest year of all. The Belgian team was well on its way to victory when Stefan Everts got a flat tire. Last year in Austria, it was only Kiedrowski’s amazing last-minute effort, passing three riders on the white lap, that put the Americans on top by one point.
This year, you can second-guess the U.S. team all you want. However, the truth is that this year’s team did no worse than several of the most recent U.S. teams. LaRocco logged a second and a first, Emig had two seconds and of Kiedrowski’s fourth and fifth placings, the fifth was dropped, per the rules. It’s just that this year, England did better. They were able to use Paul Malin’s two wins in the 125 class, Robb Herring’s first-moto runner-up score in the 250 class and Kurt Nicoll’s third and second scores. Sure, the U.S. team might have done better if things had been different–but they might have done worse, too.
The good news is now that the streak is over, we can get down to the business of racing. The riders we send no longer carry the weight of 13 years of winning on their backs. They might even be permitted to have fun–and there are still goals to reach, records to be set. Currently, Great Britain holds the record for most total Motocross des Nations wins, at 16 (not in a row). We probably will get that record, eventually, but it might not be as easy. There are some Englishmen, Belgians and Frenchmen who will see to that.