Prang of the year

Kenneth Olausson

This picture conquered the world. In 1967 I was asked to accompany Husqvarna’s World Championship MX rider Olle Pettersson to Switzerland, where he would participate in a memorable international race…

The scene was like a storybook fairy tale – the Swiss Alps providing a spectacular backdrop to an incredible international motocross race held in Cossonay, close to Lake Geneva. Participants from seven or eight European countries came together, most well paid for taking to the start. This was an era where both 2-strokes and 4-strokes battled side-by-side.

It is always a challenge taking a ‘nice’ starting shot of a motocross event. You want to catch the atmosphere, which seemed to be easy in Cossonay with all the beautiful mountains surrounding the track. Timing and positioning are of essential importance. I’d chosen a small ditch just in front of the spectators and behind a fence, where I would catch the best angle. 20 riders revved up their engines while riding to the starting gate. That’s when I decided to move 15 meters ahead, getting closer to the action.

Seconds later the starting field was flagged off and the roar of twenty engines became a shattering echo around the valley. Frenchman Gérard Ledormeur was fastest off the line on his Métisse machine, jostling for the lead over the first hilly slope. Loosing it altogether Ledormeur lost both grip and traction, swivelling in the air - just past me. When I turned to look at him grounded, I could see that there were several injured spectators. With horror I observed that the heavy machine of the Frenchman had landed exactly on the spot where I had sat half a minute earlier!

Two weeks later my black-and-white film from Kodak was developed and I became aware of my results. Immediately, I went to the weekly "Se" (pronounced See) and they were amazed by the picture and my story. Across a 31cm x 46cm spread the headline read, "His air ride ended among the spectators".

The text read simply... “Three men riding side-by-side challenged for the lead when Frenchman Gérard Ledormeur went into the first obstacle too fast, ending up in the air. The rider and two spectators had to go to hospital for treatment, though not seriously injured.” Kenneth Olausson from Vällingby gets top payment for his unique shot earning 1’000 Swedish Crowns. The magic picture was published in the Swedish equivalent to Life magazine. This weekly always published the best shot of the week. My picture was awarded top grades and the only picture in 1967 to receive the highest financial reward. What an honour for a 19-year-old kid!

Being Johnny-on-the-spot catching a Frenchman on his first whoop-de-do at full throttle had its merits. But in the coming 50 years I would never take another shot like this one. The colourful photograph also travelled the world throughout 23 countries, including a spread in the German magazine "Stern". This picture was also printed in nations like Mexico, Japan, United States and Italy, however not in France. I do not recall who won the race, but I do know that this weekend's laurel went to a Swedish photographer...

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