Jerzy Szczakiel, the first Polish individual speedway world champion passed away at the age of 71 in Opole, southern Poland, after a severe illness.
The legendary rider was born on January 28, 1949 in Grudzice and was associated with the Kolejarz Opole team throughout his entire career.
Together with Andrzej Wyglenda in 1971, Jerzy Szczakiel won the speedway world pairs championship in Rybnik, while three years later he finished third in the team world championships, along with Jan Mucha, Zenon Plech and Andrzej Jurczyński.
However, his biggest moment came on September 2, 1973 at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzów during the world championship final.
Then an one-off event saw Szczakiel leading the standings along with the iconic New Zealander Ivan Mauger on 13 points apiece. In an additional play-off race he defeated the then four-time champion (Mauger would add two more in 1977 and 1979), thus becoming the first ever Polish individual world champion.
For the next world champion from that nation fans had to wait 37 long years. In 2010, the success of Jerzy Szczakiel was repeated by Tomasz Gollob, while in 2019, Bartosz Zmarzlik became the third Polish individual gold medalist.