Monday, April 24, 2006

Why does everyone hate Mat Mladin?

6-time AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin is a man most people love to hate. Fiercely competitive (like most Australian sportsmen), hugely talented, uncompromising and to-the-point, these are the kind of qualities that would normally engender huge respect from both those inside and outside the sport.

But when Mat Mladin fell from the lead of the second Superbike race at Barber Motorsports Park yesterday, I don't think I was the only one who laughed from sheer joy and satisfaction.

In the normal course of a racing career, a rider or driver will ascend as far as they can in the sport, before gradually going back down the ladder or retiring. Not Mat Mladin. After starting his career in Australia, he moved to the US series in 1996 and secured his first AMA Superbike title in 1999. For most superbike riders the world over, this is a sign that it's time to move to World Superbike or MotoGP. Once again, not Mladin. He chose to defend his title, which he did so successfully. Now, surely, it was time to move to the international stage. Not according to Modest Mat. He took a third title in succession in 2001, and again decided to stay in the US. Now it was time for people to start hating him properly, for the main reason of being a scaredy-cat for not going to WSB or MotoGP and for sticking around to cherry-pick in a series he was overqualified for.

Mat's reasons for staying in the US were two-fold. Firstly, superbike racing with a factory team in the US is MUCH more lucrative than going to WSB. I remember reading somewhere that top riders in the US make 4 times what their counterparts in WSB do. Mladin's second reason was that he was "too old" to go to Europe, learn the tracks and be competitive e.g. win. Well guess what Mat, everyone else has to do that too. Do you think any of the top guys in WSB knew all the tracks before they started in that championship? That's what international series are so important - they break down the level of comfort built up by riders in domestic series, in order to show who's really the best. And in this case, I think Mladin was scared of being shown up as not being the best. As it stands now, we can't say for sure whether he's the fastest superbike rider in the world, and as far as he's concerned, he'd rather we say "he might have been" than "he definitely wasn't". And the worst thing of all is that he'll actually say "I would have been", because he's so supremely arrogant (check out his response to being beaten to pole by Ben Spies: "good job, only 49 to go" - what a bastard).

And that's why everyone hates Mat Mladin.

This weekend, for the first time in a long time, Mat Mladin was beaten in a straight fight, and in the process was forced into making silly mistakes. As he chased down Ben Spies in race 1, he misjudged a pass around a backmarker and ran off the track, ending his chase and forcing him to settle for second.

In race 2, he was leading handsomely and had a harmless lowside. This was the moment that Mladin-haters have dreamed of - when he felt the pressure so badly, he'd crash out of the lead of a superbike race. Ben Spies is the real deal, Mat knows it, and he's panicking. It was only through a red flag and the bone-headedness of his oafish team-mate Aaron Yates that he was able to grab 3rd, after Yates ran Tommy Hayden off the track. Funny, reminds me of when amateur racer Anthony Fania did the same to Yates at Daytona in 2004. What did Yates do? Drop-kicked the poor guy on live TV.

But enough about the over-rated and under-talented Yates. We're here to hate Mladin today. And it's a good day to do so.

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