Ryan Dungey, Eli Tomac and Jeremy Martin have a huge weight of responsibility resting on their collective shoulders.
They know the American tradition for winning at the Motocross of Nations is a tough cross to bear and the hopes and dreams of so many fans will rise or fall on what happens at Kegums, in Latvia, this weekend.
Managed by expatriate Belgian and motocross legend Roger DeCoster – who has lived in the United States for many years and managed nearly every US team since 1981 – the American trio are determined to bounce back from back-to-back shock losses, in the deep sand of Belgium in 2012 and on the off-cambers of Germany last year.
After a joyous run of seven consecutive wins from 2005 until 2011, losses over the past two seasons have been bitter pills to swallow for the Americans.
In 2012 it was the three men from Germany who instead won the main prize (the Chamberlain Trophy) and Belgium finished runners-up with the Americans forced to settle for an unaccustomed third place. In Germany last year it was the trio from Belgium who took the main prize, and Team USA had to accept the runner-up spot.
With a record 22 MXoN crowns to their credit over the past 30 years, there’s no reason to suggest the men in the stars and stripes colours won’t be among the favourites in Latvia, but the pressure to perform will be on Dungey, Tomac and Martin as they seek to “restore honour”.
Team USA won its first Motocross of Nations title in 1981 and, from that moment on, made it a bit of a winning tradition.
That first US team of Donnie Hansen, Danny LaPorte, Johnny O’Mara and Chuck Sun (the teams comprised four riders in those days) was regarded as one of the greatest in history, but who can forget the winning American trio in Italy in 1986?
The 1986 team of David Bailey, Ricky Johnson and Johnny O’Mara finished 1-2 in each of the three races and that instantly wrote their names in the history books with an unbeaten team performance that has never been repeated.
Many American riders have threatened to stamp their individual authority over the years and we all remember the two race wins by Ricky Carmichael in France in 2005; the outstanding double win by (MX2 class rider) Ryan Villopoto at Budd’s Creek, Maryland, in 2007 and the pair of wins by Ryan Dungey in Denver, Colorado, in 2010.
But then there has been total dominance shown too by other riders – such as by Belgium’s Stefan Everts in Lierop, in The Netherlands, in 2004 and again at Winchester, in England, in 2006.
Italian Antonio Cairoli bagged two wins for himself at the MXoN in Lommel, in Belgium, in 2012 and again at Teutschenthal, in Germany, in 2013.
The European countries, and even Australia and New Zealand, have stepped up the pace in recent years and now regularly threaten the American stranglehold, so a repeat of that 1986 dominance by the Americans seems very unlikely, but anything can happen in motocross.
Even New Zealand has celebrated race wins at the MXoN, with Ben Townley taking the chequered flag in one race at Ernee, in France, in 2005 and again tasting victory in one race at Denver, Colorado in 2010.
Regardless of the individual race results in Latvia this time around, Team USA is still hoping for outright victory No.23.
The Motocross of Nations finals race features teams from the 20 countries that qualify, with each rider competing in two heats for a combined score to determine the overall championship-winning nation. The event emerged in post-war Europe in 1947 and has run uninterrupted since.
With 22 wins, the United States is the all-time leader in the Motocross of Nations. Great Britain is second with 16 and Belgium third with 15.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
Find BikesportNZ.com on FACEBOOK here.