20 years - that's how long it took for a sportsman not from Russia to stand on the highest podium in the Ice Speedway World Championships. Swede Martin Haarahiltunen won last weekend in Heerenveen. He repeated the success of Per Olof Serenius, who won gold in 2002. He talked about his success and his career in an interview with our portal.
Magdalena Magdziarz (speedwaynews.pl): Martin, first of all, I want to start by congratulating you on winning the title of world champion in ice speedway. Exactly, how does it feel to be the World Champion in a sport which for years has been dominated by one nationality, that is Russians of course? Before you left for Holland, did you expect that it would be you who would win and come home with the gold medal? Martin Haarahiltunen (Ice Speedway World Champion): First of all, thank you very much. No, I did not expect that. It was up to me. Also from Weber. But I knew what I had to do and the bt thing was to win both finals in Holland and hope for the best result for me. I was lucky. It was my weekend, everything went my way. So I’m very happy, but I didn’t expect it to be like this.
– So at what point did it come to you that you had made it, you had done it and you had just become the new world champion? – Actually, it was only after crossing the finish line in the last final. That’s when I realised that yes, it had really happened and I was really happy then.
– After all, you had a really good season. In Sweden, you won the Swedish championship, among other things. A day later, after this tournament, you also won gold in the Nordic Final. You didn’t race too badly in the first two final rounds in Togliatti, either. – I wasn’t very good in Togliatti, but then I did much better. Actually, this season was… I didn’t plan to ride at full speed. I just wanted to get back to riding after my elbow injury. It took me a long time to recover. I just wanted to come back and find a rhythm and feel on the bike, because I didn’t drive in the 2020 season. This year I just did my own thing and I was very relaxed in every race and everything went pretty well. Anyway, I’m happy. After the Swedish Championships and the Nordic Championships I had a great feeling, I felt very strong. When I arrived in Holland I knew that I could beat everyone and that I could be at my best on both days. So I just focused on that and it worked out pretty well.
– While we’re on the topic of the past season in ice speedway, how would you sum up the past months? What are your best memories from that season? – My best memory is when I crossed the finish line in Heerenveen and everything changed inside me. Apart from that, all the hours spent in the garage, in the car. It all paid off. Just like the whole season. I can’t explain the happiness I feel.
– The final in Holland was a bit different. Obviously, the point is that the Russians were not in it, so what is your attitude to that? What do you think about the exclusion of the Russians and what further impact did it have on the final races in Heerenveen? – Of course, it had a big impact because the Russians are professionals, very good riders they have the right to be the best. I won’t say it was easy, but it went easier. I feel sorry for them because they have nothing to do with it. But somehow the world has to show that this is unacceptable. That’s as much as I can say about this situation.
– Many riders say that they ride much better on these natural tracks. And do you share this opinion, because the track in Heerenveen is an artificial track. Did you feel any difference? – I don’t know. Of course, it’s different, but actually, it doesn’t make any difference to me whether it’s natural or whether it’s artificial, so I don’t have an opinion on that.
– I understand. So it makes no difference to you. – Actually, no. Of course, the ice is different, maybe it is a bit more difficult to ride on them. But you have to be good at everything to be World Champion.
– Yes, that’s true. Otherwise, it is difficult to reach for the highest titles and wins. Speaking of ice speedway, it’s considered a dangerous sport. What is your opinion? – I think classic speedway is more dangerous. In this sport, it is much easier to get injured. On the ice track, on the other hand, it is not so easy to get these injuries.
– So did you try a motorbike for classic speedway? – Yes, I only tried it once, one of my sponsors let me try it. The first time I led for the first lap. Initially, it was dry, but then it rained heavily for about ten minutes. So the track became very wet and slippery. But it was just fun.
– From what I understand, over the years it has become a bit more difficult in ice speedway in your country, Sweden. How does that look from your perspective? – Actually, the level has been going down for a few years now, especially after the coronavirus pandemic. A lot of riders withdrew because of it. But I hope it will get better. We still have some riders at a very good level, such as Stefan Svensson. That is a pity that a lot depends on the weather. About 20 years ago in southern and central Sweden, there was always ice to hold competitions, but now it’s not like that. As for the racers, I think there are about fifteen of us in Sweden at the moment.
– So could that change for the better in the future? – Yes. I hope we just need to create the opportunity for people to come, look, test, and everything because people are interested in the sport, but they need to take a step in that direction.
– I think as a World Champion, you can reveal the answer to this question. What is the key to success in ice speedway? What is the most important thing about it, what do you need to pay the most attention to? – I also got this question in Holland. You have to be very, very concentrated while driving. That is the most important thing. You also have to be a bit crazy. Also… You have to take great care of it and check that everything is in order equipment-wise at every competition. When you go wrong, you know exactly what you need to improve so that you can do better in the next races. You have to take great care of all the bolts, the engine, the clutch, the handlebars, everything.
– And what about concentration when you’re racing? When you’re on the track, taking part in a race, what goes on in your head? How do you approach the heats, what matters most to you during the race? – When I’m racing, I have this feeling like I’m at one with the bike and I can feel everything that I feel in the bike, through all the parts of the bike down to the ice. I’m 200% focused on which path on the track I’m going to take. And if I’m leading the race, I’m focused on finding a good line and riding it as fast as possible.
– How did you actually start with ice speedway? – After graduating from school, I went to the army and worked in the Swedish army for three years. After that, I came back to my hometown. I know Stefan Svensson and Nicklas Svensson from when I was a kid and when I came back, Stefan came to me and said: „You are crazy. You’re going to ride well.” So I got on a motorbike then and started riding.
– How many years have you been around ice speedway then? – I started in the middle of the season in 2015. So it will be seven years now.
– Surely the World Championship title is now the most important for you in your whole career. Apart from winning that gold medal, I mean more than that. What is the most important thing for you in your whole career in ice speedway so far? – Actually, it was what I always come back to when I start telling people about the sport. I think it was my second training session, in 2015. Together with Nicklas Svensson, we also rode motocross together. We have a lot of patents on the motocross track and fights between each other. Nicklas had already competed in ice speedway before me. He was much, much better than me.
In my second practice, I and Nicklas went out on the track together. I was in front of him, but then he overtook me on a corner spin and then I said to myself that he couldn’t beat me. So I added the gas. I thought to myself: No, this will not work. And then I understood how it all worked, that I was speeding up. I understood then how it works. I understood that I could trust my bike. This is a memory that helped me a lot in the ice speedway. It helped me move forward very quickly with my career.
– Something that I have observed in this sport is that despite the track rivalry, you are really something of a family. – Yes. On the one hand, I feel happy that I won the world championship. But I’m also good friends with Hans Weber and of course, I’m a bit sad for him because, as you said, we are one big family. Every rider congratulates me on my victory, whether it’s from Russia or Europe. Everyone is always smiling at races. We help each other every time.
– It is good that in this sport you are able to separate the track competition from what happens outside it. The fact that you help each other is positive. – Yes, I think this only happens in ice speedway. In motocross, for example, everyone thinks only of themselves – there is only me, me, and me. Here, on the other hand, people take care of each other. Of course, on the track, we are each other’s rivals, but off the track, we are very good friends.
– What are your goals for next year in this sport? Last season you already won the most important title. – I will defend all the titles. That is my goal. It will be difficult, but I will try to give my best. I will work even harder next season to achieve this.
– So of course I wish you good luck and may everything go your way. At the end of the interview, who would you like to thank? – I would like to thank my family and also my girlfriend who supports me a lot. They support me 200% and my girlfriend works very hard on other things that I don’t like to do. A big thank you to Louise Svanqvist. Of course, I also thank all my sponsors who have helped me so far.
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