After months of uncertainty and negotiations the Finals of the FIM Ice Speedway World Championship scheduled for this month have finally been given the go ahead by the authorities. Political considerations along with the restrictions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic posed many problems for the organisers but with the help of local authorities along with other national and international bodies a way was found to allow this event to go ahead.
The pandemic has seen the closing of many borders with limitations on travel and the fact that many of the original venues would have been unable to welcome spectators, the original calendar had to be abandoned as organisers in Kazakhstan, Germany and The Netherlands were forced to cancel their plans. This left the Anatoly Stepanov Stadium in Togliatti as the only available venue and the World Championship will now be decided for the first time over one event.
Entries have been decided according to the allocation of places by the FIM Track Racing Commission with riders nominated by their own Federation. Some competitors have had to withdraw, and the Swedish federation were unable to send their riders due to their government’s restrictions on travel and the resulting insurance complications. The short notice resulted in a scramble to arrange visas and to make transport plans for machines as well as the riders themselves. It is a long drive to Togliatti, some 1000km east of Moscow, and time must be allowed for possible delays through document checks at borders or weather problems en route.
One of the other issues from the pandemic lockdown has been the lack of track experience for many of the riders. Apart from some practice organised in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden which some visiting riders were able to attend, it has not been possible to run the usual training camps. For the home riders only local leagues have been run as normal but without any foreign guests and many of the racers will have had no racing activity for almost a year.
Clearly the favourites for this championship will be those who have previously been medallists in this competition. Current World Champion Daniil Ivanov has held the title for the last two years and his current form suggests that it will be difficult to prevent a third win. Dmitry Khomitsevich has a collection of medals but his win in 2016 is his only individual gold. Dinar Valeev has taken the bronze medal for the last two years and only his inconsistency has prevented him from gaining higher honours but he is currently leading the national averages so a one-event final might be to his advantage this year. Home track favourites Igor Kononov and Wild Card Nikita Toloknov are also in great form and either could be standing on the podium on Sunday afternoon.
Evergreen Franky Zorn hoping for an improvement on his 2020 scores leads the Austrian entries and will be joined by Harald Simon. Kazakhstan continues its attempts to develop ice speedway and also has two representatives in Pavel Nekrassov and Andrei Shishegov although lack of top class competition may limit their chances of success here.
Johan Weber was the best of the German riders during the curtailed 2020 season and will again attempt to steal some of the glory from the favourites. Max Niedermayer brings his experience to the meeting and former national champion Marcus Jell completes the German trio although Luca Bauer riding with an Italian licence will also be present.
Jasper Iwema from The Netherlands has been able to find a little practice and is very enthusiastic about his opportunity to compete again with the top riders. He left his home for the long drive as soon as visa and travel documents were completed, and he should arrive in good time to prepare for racing.
Aki Ala-Riihimäki has fought back from a major injury, not through ice speedway, where he was left in a wheelchair for some time. He returned to the track only last year and at 54 he is at the veteran stage but is a multiple Finnish champion. Lukáš Hutla will be the only representative from the Czech Republic.
Aleksandr Lyatosinskyy from Ukraine will be both Jury President and Referee and it is hoped that Oleg Zakharov will be available as Race Coordinator. After practice on Friday, racing will start at 16.00 on Saturday and 14.00 on Sunday.
Important Note: The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) considered that in the circumstances, maintaining the FIM World Championship in Togliatti (Russia) was not in contradiction with the CAS decision mainly based on the extreme circumstances of the case, in particular considering that the FIM Ice Speedway World Championship is due to start in less than two weeks and only a few weeks passed since the issuance of the CAS decision in the Arbitration WADA v. RUSADA. WADA’s position expressed therein is without prejudice to WADA’s position in respect to other FIM events scheduled to be held during the Two Years Period (i.e. 2021 and 2022) in Russia.
Among the measures taken by the FIM are, the removal of the Russian national flag from the visual elements (backdrops, race jackets, TV graphics). The Russian nationality of the riders will not be mentioned. The Russian national anthem shall not be played during these events.