Kiwi riders make great progress, writes Andy McGechan.
With this year's Motocross of Nations just around the corner - in Belgium next weekend - it's a good time to look at New Zealand's long and proud association with what is known as "the Olympic Games of Motocross".
New Zealand's first foray into the big annual race started almost by accident. When New Zealand enduro riders travelled to Holland for the International Six Days Enduro in 1984, it was hastily agreed they'd form a team to enter the Motocross of Nations (MXoN).
Aucklander Tony Cooksley was one of the Kiwi riders giving New Zealand its MXoN debut that year.
"We were all just enduro guys at the time," he says. "We were over there for the International Six Days Enduro in Holland but we did okay to be competitive."
The Kiwi team at Varberg, in Sweden, that year was Grant Oliver, Rob Snep and Darryl August, with Cooksley sidelined by injury.
The team finished a long way down the standings. In 1987, Cooksley again represented New Zealand at the Motocross des Nations, this time staged at Unadilla in the United States. Cooksley and his Taranaki team-mates, brothers Darryll and Shayne King, struggled in the sloppy mud and failed to record enough finishes to register, but the international experience was building up for the Kiwis.
The following year, 1988, New Zealand (with the King brothers and Darryl Atkins) finished 17th at Villars Ecot, in France, so at last New Zealand was on the scoreboard.
The year 1992 presented the Kiwis with their best chance to shine, the event being staged that year at Manjimup, near Perth.
The King brothers again teamed with Atkins, this time finishing a creditable 10th.
In Austria in 1993, at a place called Schwanenstadt, the same Kiwi three finished fifth and they were starting to move up the rankings.
It was the first year the Kiwi trio, as individuals, had each spent the season based in Europe, contesting the world championships, and that experience was obviously starting to shine through.
New Zealand has been on the MXoN podium on three memorable occasions in recent times: at Foxhills, England, in 1998 (Darryll King, Shayne King, Josh Coppins), at Namur, Belgium, in 2001 (Daryl Hurley, Josh Coppins, Shayne King) and at Matterley Basin, England, in 2006 (Josh Coppins, Cody Cooper, Ben Townley).
With Kiwi riders taking their careers overseas in increasing numbers, and New Zealanders lining up regularly at grand prix and American, British and Australian national events, the likelihood of New Zealand winning the Motocross des Nations has gone from far-fetched dream to achievable reality.
That could also be the case in Belgium in this weekend with former GP hero and just-crowned Australian MX1 champion Josh Coppins, of Motueka, former New Zealand and Australian champion Cody Cooper, of Mount Maunganui, and Kiwi domestic frontrunner and just-crowned Australian under-19 champion Kayne Lamont, of Mangakino, flying the Kiwi flag.