No one said sport was fair. In many instances, it can be just plain cruel.
Under more favourable circumstances, Josh Coppins might already be celebrating his imminent status as world motocross champion. Instead, Coppins, his Rinaldi Yamaha team and a healthy proportion of the Tasman district's population are holding their collective breath as he prepares to contest the final two rounds of the MX1 world championship.
Several weeks ago Coppins looked a shoo-in to snatch the title. He'd stretched his lead to 107 points over Belgian Steve Ramon with just six of the 17 rounds remaining. With his Belgian nemesis Stefan Everts having retired after 10 years of almost total dominance in the class, Coppins' time had come.
But disaster struck in round 12 in the Czech Republic when Coppins broke his shoulder blade, forcing him to miss the next three rounds as he watched his lead shrink to just 12 points.
Coppins is back for this weekend's penultimate round in the British GP with a new champion due to be crowned after the season-ending Dutch GP a week later.
For years, Coppins' professionalism and mental toughness have made him the natural successor to Everts' world mantle. Yet three weeks of physical and mental anguish have threatened to rob Coppins of his destiny.
If justice prevails, Coppins will be bringing the championship trophy back to Motueka sometime later this year. It's likely to be a harrowing two weeks for everyone involved but such is Coppins' standing in the sport that even many of his rivals believe the title is rightly his. All he has to do now is muster the strength and mental stamina to stay ahead of Ramon and most importantly - stay on his bike.
Coppins' former boss, CAS Honda team chief Harry Ainsworth, admits he doesn't mind finishing second this year, provided it's Coppins who wins the title, preferring his former charge over a host of "other young overpaid muppets".
It's almost a unique situation in international sport - where everyone, including the opposition, appears to be willing the title favourite towards victory. It doesn't mean they'll be lying down for him - least of all Ramon. Coppins would be a worthy world champion. Yet he's caught in that excruciating void between almost achieving his ultimate goal and once again having it slip cruelly from his grasp.
In a sport as tough and exacting as motocross, there are no guarantees. Hopefully though, Coppins survives the two weeks having given some credence to the notion that sometimes the good guy does win.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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