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Sam Ermolenko

Full Name: Guy Allen Ermolenko.
Born: 23 November 1960, Maywood, California, United States of America.

“Sudden Sam” returns to his spiritual home at Monmore Green in 2003 for his fourteenth season in a Wolves racejacket. By common consent, the spectacular Californian is the greatest rider in the club’s history and he holds virtually every club record available. While he is undoubtedly past his very best, it would take or a very brave (or foolish) person to write off the 42 year old speedway legend. Whether 2003 proves to be Sam’s Monmore swansong remains to be seen, as he has consistently denied that he has any immediate plans for retirement. Welcome home Sam!

Career Details
Motor Cross was Sam’s first love, but a serious accident on a road bike at the age of 16 left him with terrible leg injuries which took three years to recover from, effectively ending his career. He decided to try his hand at speedway in 1981 and dressed in red leathers he managed to get regular rides at Costa Mesa billed as “The Mad Russian”. He caught the eye of Poole promoter Brian Maidment in 1982, and he was persuaded to come to England for a handful of meetings at the end of the following year. Sam impressed enough to be invited back for a full season at Wimbourne Road in 1984, where his thrilling style and outgoing personality quickly made him a big favourite with Poole fans.

The Poole promotion went bust at the end of the 1984 season, and Sam didn’t ride in Britain the following year. However, 1985 was the season Sam really grabbed everyone’s attention with a superb run in the World Championship, culminating in a shock 3rd place at the Bradford World Final. So just four years after taking up the sport, Sam had come within one race of winning the world title – he lost a three man run off for the title with Erik Gundersen and Hans Nielsen – two riders he would have a huge rivalry with in years to come. This made Sam a very hot property for British promoters for the 1986 season, and he came very close to signing for Coventry Bees. However to his eternal credit, Wolves promoter Peter Adams convinced Sam to come to Monmore Green – and this was to prove the best decision Peter made in his brief spell as owner of the club.

Sam made an instant impression at Monmore Green, taking no time at all to settle in. Wolves had a world class number one, and one of the most exciting riders in the sport’s history. For the next ten years he was the undisputed king of Monmore Green, yet his career was a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. After a superb first season, Sam’s world almost came crashing down in August 1987. An England v USA Test Match at Hackney ended in uproar when the American team threatened to walk out in protest at the track conditions. The match was eventually postponed due to rain, and in the confusion Sam left the stadium without taking a drugs test. Despite protesting his innocence in what appeared to be a genuine mistake, he was suspended from British Speedway for fifteen months by the Speedway Control Board. This didn’t affect his World Championship hopes, and he again finished on the rostrum after a two day final in Amsterdam. Ironically, shortly after the final, Sam sustained a broken wrist and ankle following a fall in an open meeting at Vojens, and his season was over anyway!

Fortunately, the ban was lifted on appeal and Sam was free to resume his Wolves career in 1988, where he amassed over five hundred points for the club for the first time. 1989 started even better, Chris Van Straaten had reshaped the Wolves team, and in July they were flying high at the top of the table. Then on July 16th 1989, disaster struck. Sam was involved in a high speed crash at Herxheim, West Germany in the Long Track World Semi Final and suffered horrific injuries, which included a broken thigh, two leg fractures, serious knee damage, a broken wrist, broken nose and facial injuries. His speedway career seemed to be over, but Sam battled back, and tackled his rehabilitation with the same determination that he tackled his racing.

On June 18th 1990, Sam made a very tentative return at Monmore Green in the Ladbroke Olympique. He found the tight turns at Monmore difficult to adapt to with his leg injury, yet just five days later at Cradley Heath he scored a superb 12 points – Sam the Man was back! His value to the club at this stage can best be explained by Wolves’ finishing positions in the League at this stage. At the time of his 1989 injury, Wolves were top of the table. Without Sam, they just missed out on the title, finishing 2nd to Oxford. At the time of his return in 1990, Wolves were bottom of the table, yet after his return they climbed to 2nd once more.

By the following season, Sam appeared to be virtually over his injuries. His leg would certainly never be 100%, but riding with a knee brace, Sam adapted his style, becoming more measured and patient on the track. 1991 was Sam’s, and Wolves’ best season to date. He formed a superb partnership at the top of the side with fellow Californian Ronnie Correy , and Sam was an inspirational captain as Wolves claimed their first ever British League title. He finished the season with a near eleven point average, winning the Division One Riders’ Final at Belle Vue for good measure, and on an emotional night at Monmore in October, he paraded his League Riders title before the home crowd, and then accepted the League Championship on behalf of the club – nights don’t come much better!

Sam enjoyed another superb season for Wolves in 1992, captaining the club to victory in the Premiership and Gold Cup finals, although injuries restricted the club to 5th in the League table. 1993 was to prove the pinnacle of Sam’s speedway career – yet ended in despair. As a strong Wolves side raced away at the top of the table, Sam was enjoying his greatest ever season. He amassed an amazing 659 points for the club, averaging well over eleven points per match. In September 1993, at a small German venue called Pocking, Sam finally scaled his Everest, as he was crowned World Champion after a controversial final. He returned to England the following day to parade his World Title at Cradley, Monmore and Poole. The win seemed to inspire Sam to even greater form as he reeled off maximum after maximum. The day after turning in an awesome 21 point maximum at Bradford, Sam crashed in Heat 1 of the return at Monmore Green, catching a fence post and breaking his left leg. This resulted in yet more metalwork for the leg, and a Wolves team cruelly robbed of Sam, Ronnie Correy, Charles Ermolenko, Graham Jones and Phil Ashcroft lost a heart breaking title decider to Belle Vue.

The leg injury continued to bother him in 1994, but he still scored over 400 points for Wolves for an average of almost ten. He celebrated his World Championship year with a successful testimonial at Monmore Green – the first Wolves rider to stage such an event. Sam’s skills as a team rider were reaching epic proportions by this stage, and were never better illustrated than in 1995. Sam scored a staggering 630 points for Wolves, which included an amazing 66 bonus points as his skills at shepherding home an often inexperienced partner were demonstrated to the full. His thirteen maximums that year all included at least one bonus point. However, changed at International level were afoot that would have a big effect on Sam’s Wolves career. He bounced back from a disappointing World Final in 1994 to finish 3rd in the inaugural Grand Prix series in 1995. Sam was excited by the prospect of the GP’s, and wanted to put more time and effort into it in 1996. This obviously concerned Van Straaten, and after early talks between the two had proved inconclusive, CVS made the brave decision to plan the Wolves side without him.

The change in emphasis backfired badly for Sam in 1996. He slipped to 9th in the GP standings, which meant elimination from the 1997 event, after a final round where he appeared to concentrate more on helping compatriot Billy Hamill to win the title rather than defending his own position. Sam had a couple of spells for Sheffield in the British League, where he rode very well, but ironically without him Wolves enjoyed their best ever season, winning the league and cup double. Understandably, CVS opted to keep his team virtually intact for the defence of the title in 1998, and Sam had a full season on loan to Belle Vue. This was the first sign that Sam’s form might be slipping slightly. He found the going tougher in the newly formed Elite League, and despite scoring over 400 points for the Aces, his average slipped to the eight and a half point mark.

1998 saw a return to Monmore Green, but it was a generally unhappy year for Sam and Wolves. His average dropped by another point as he struggled with a succession of machine problems. The year ended in controversy as a vital K.O.Cup Semi Final at Coventry ended in heavy defeat for Wolves, with Sam and Wolves number one Mark Loram scoring just seven points between them. Van Straaten accused Sam of being ill prepared for the club’s most vital meeting – and Sam pointed the finger at the disappointing Loram. The year ended in seven consecutive defeats, and Sam’s Wolves career appeared to have ended on a very low note.

But as the critics began to write him off, Sam’s career received a kick start with a move to Hull Vikings in 1999. With his ex-Wolves team mate Graham Jones as team manager, Sam revelled in the spotlight as Sky TV showed live coverage of league racing for the first time. Sam became one of their expert summarisers, and even commentated on one race at Hull that he actually competed in (and won!). His form improved considerably, pushing his average up to 8.60 as he even outscored team mate Joe Screen to win Rider of the Year accolades on Humberside.

However, the Vikings flirtation with the Elite League ended after 1999, and with Wolves suffering a nightmare wooden spoon season, a return to Monmore Green for a third spell with the club was inevitable. The 2000 season continued Sam’s speedway renaissance as he was reunited with Ronnie Correy at the top of the Wolves’ averages, and won a third Overseas Final title at Poole in June. But he suffered another huge injury blow in front of a live TV audience at Monmore on July 10th. On a rain affected track, Sam was the victim of the reckless riding of Ipswich's Jason Bunyan, and both riders suffered serious injuries. Sam's head injury thankfully proved less serious than first appeared, but a broken wrist kept him out of the saddle for two months, and ended his hopes of a return to the Grand Prix series.

2001 was another good season for Sam. Although his average slipped a little, he was still more than capable of rising to the occasion, and he was often called on to team up with close friend Mikael Karlsson in an amazing succession of last heat deciders, particularly at Monmore Green. At the age of 40, Sam had still not given up hope of regaining a place in the Grand Prix series, but his hopes of qualification were cruelly ended after a clash with ex- Wolves team mate Nicki Pedersen in the Grand Prix Challenge left him with a fractured vertebra and his season was over.

At the end of the season, Chris Van Straaten made the controversial decision to release Ermolenko for the 2002 season. Although many fans strongly opposed the move, Wolves went on to win the Elite League title in a thrilling Play Off final at Eastbourne. Sam returned to Manchester for a second spell with Belle Vue. After a very slow start to the season where his back injury appeared to affect him, Sam was riding into form when yet another injury – a broken hand – took a big chunk out of his season. Sam did ride into good form after his return, and made sure he was not forgotten at Monmore Green following a fine guest performance for Wolves at Peterborough, and two match winning outings guesting for Oxford against them! This time though, it appeared his Wolves career had surely ended.

Recent events have again proved that to be premature. A late increase in the points limit has allowed CVS to offer the final 2003 team place to Sam. Van Straaten has stressed that he sees Sam’s role in the Wolves team as little more than a 6 point second string, but his effect on the younger members of the side, and his ability to rise to the big occasion still make him a vital team member. 2003 promises to be another fascinating season for Sam and Wolves.

Sam Ermolenko

M

R

P

BP

T

Ave

F

P

1983

Poole

D1

4

16

15

2

17

4.25

0

0

1984

Poole

D1

41

177

268

29

297

6.71

0

0

1985

Did not ride

1986

Wolves

D1

39

184

407

40

447

9.72

3

8

1987

Wolves

D1

27

127

292

21

313

9.86

2

2

1988

Wolves

D1

41

226

504

27

531

9.40

2

3

1989

Wolves

D1

16

80

179

18

197

9.85

1

3

1990

Wolves

D1

24

133

269

26

295

8.87

0

3

1991

Wolves

D1

27

143

364

20

384

10.74

5

8

1992

Wolves

D1

28

151

368

19

387

10.25

5

4

1993

Wolves

D1

43

237

627

32

659

11.12

8

9

1994

Wolves

D1

31

166

388

20

408

9.83

6

3

1995

Wolves

D1

41

243

564

66

630

10.37

0

13

1996

Sheffield

D1

19

104

244

9

253

9.73

1

2

1997

Belle Vue

D1

38

202

410

18

428

8.48

1

1

1998

Wolves

D1

44

243

397

54

451

7.42

0

2

1999

Hull

D1

35

180

361

26

387

8.60

0

3

2000

Wolves

D1

27

129

234

22

256

7.94

0

0

2001

Wolves

D1

32

157

267

21

288

7.34

0

0

2002

Belle Vue

D1

27

128

181

23

204

6.38

0

0

Career Total

584

3026

6339

493

6832

9.03

34

64

Wolves Total

420

2219

4860

386

5246

9.46

32

58

Mark Rowe

..

Acknowledgements:
Many photographs on this site are copyright/courtesy of John Hipkiss - Wolverhampton Track Photographer.
The opinions expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the promotion/management of Wolverhampton Speedway.
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