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There are sportsmen who, due to some serious injury, see their world of fame and financial gain collapse from one day to the next. Other champions struggle for years with the question of when they will put a definitive end to their career. They persevere, against their better judgment, in pursuit of success, and with every unsuccessful attempt they are told in veiled terms that it is «not that anymore». This often only stifles them in their stubbornness to carry on, driven by a vague illusion that there will still be a moment from heaven to "end in beauty", as it is called.
Four world titles are on Mikkola's palmares. He is the only rider to become world champion in both 250 and 500 cc. This picture dates from 1976 when he defeated the Russian Moisseev.
«I stopped because
a second place
doesn't mean
anything to me»
 With Heikki Mikkola, four-time motocross world champion, it went very differently. He decided in September, even before the season was well and truly over, to say goodbye to the competition. At the Trophy of Nations he had already mentioned something about it, but no one paid much attention to it because in motocross such decisions also hang in the air for years before they are implemented.
     In addition, Heikki had achieved the world title in the 500 cc with a record number of points last year and he was still the highest paid pro in the motocross world this season with an enviable multi-million contract as the only factory rider of Yamaha-Japan.
    At the start of the season there was nothing to suspect that he would quit nine months later. He started the preseason with a lot of confidence, believing that a fifth title was in his reach. His main '78 opponent, American Brad Lackey, had switched to Kawasaki, a
brand that, as Mikkola predicted, still lacked Grand Prix experience. Most insiders pointed to the Finn.
    But before the World Cup even started, his chances were undermined. On March 18, while romping with his opponents in the muddy Demer Valley, he hit a post, slipped and landed with his knee under the machine. The diagnosis was: torn and broken ligaments. After the operation in Mol he started training with weights on his bed as soon as possible and a month later the strong-willed Finn was at the start of the first Grand Prix, in Austria, where he anesthetized it - after another tap against the syringes. knee - lasted seven laps. In France and Sweden he already scored unexpected places of honor and in Italy he drove everyone home.

    However, the turnaround was short-lived. In Carlsbad (USA) and Mosport (Canada) he fell and sustained a few bruised ribs that cut
his breath. The result: a forced lump sum in Germany. «It was then that I knew my chances were gone,» he says.

    Fourteen days later he won the Swiss GP with great dominance. In Namur, a race he was very fond of for the sake of prestige, he made a true somersault between the trees, in which Harry Everts, who was riding behind him, narrowed his eyes. Fortunately it ended well. In the final account of the World Cup, in which Graham Noyce became the champion of regularity, Heikki had to settle for fifth place. In the given circumstances a very honorable result, but far below the level of Mikkola, who since 1972 had never finished outside the first three. When he also suffered a back injury during training for the Trophy of the Nations, which was held in his own country, he gave it up for good.
    Nobody believed him. Even his wife Kaja struggled with it. «It took her too suddenly»,
says Heikki, «after a few weeks she has reconciled with it». Much publicity was not spent on the farewell. «Yamaha would rather I didn't publicize it. Leaving the competition in the dark about my plans made it a little easier for the factory to make contact with other riders. In this way they were able to attract Hakan Carlqvist and André Vromans».
    He himself views the farewell with the cool down-to-earthness of an outsider. «I still don't think motocross is a dangerous sport. But there comes a point when you lose your certainty, when you become afraid of the risks. Because of all those setbacks and lack of training, I have reached that stage this season. I no longer have the feeling that I will be able to become world champion again. I will turn 35 next year and don't see it anymore. And driving for second place doesn't mean anything to me. You can of course go for the money and try to get the most out of it. That wouldn't be fair to my employers, who after all, don't hire me