Amazing Sports Stories 14: Gold On Ice

I was the oldest bloke in the field and I knew that, skating four races back to back, I wasn’t going to have any petrol left in the tank. So there was no point in getting there and mixing it up because I was going to be in last place anyway. Speed skater Steven Bradbury

Bradbury skates into history

By Roger Childs

BradburyAt Salt Lake City in 2002, Steven Bradbury won Australia’s first Winter Olympics gold medal. He was competitive in three previous games and picked up a team bronze in 1994. However after a serious neck injury in 2000, doctors told the young man that his skating days were over. But the determined Australian would have none of it, and was back in the national team for the 2002 Utah games. To cap off his amazing recovery, the unfancied Bradbury then won the 1000m skating final in bizarre fashion.

A career of highs and lows

All skating events are a lottery as the competitors roar around a 100m circuit at speeds of over 40 kph. The chances of colliding, being pushed or just falling on a tight bend are very high.

Sydney born Steven Bradbury was a world class short course ice skater and competed in four Winter Olympics. His best chance of a medal was in the short track relay at Albertville in 1992. The Australian team had been world champions in 1991 so went into these Olympics as favourites. Unfortunately they crashed in the semi-finals.

1991 and 1992 set a pattern for more ups and downs.

  • 1994 Lillehammer Olympics: individual 500m and 1000m races – collisions and being illegally pushed saw him eliminated.
  • 1994 Lillehammer Olympics: short track 5000m relay – won a bronze medal, Australia’s first Olympic podium finish.
  • 1994: Montreal World Cup: another skater’s blade gashed his thigh in a collision and Bradbury needed 111 stitches and nearly a year to recover.
  • 1998 Sapporo Olympics: he didn’t qualify for the finals because of collisions.
  • 2000 Sydney: during as training session he tried to jump over a fellow skater after a collision. He crashed into a barrier and broke his neck.
  • 2002 Salt Lake City: as probably the 8th ranked skater in the world, he was in the 1000m for the fourth time.

The Accidental Hero

Bradbury winnerBradbury at last got lucky. In the quarter finals one of the favourite was disqualified, allowing him to advance to the semi finals. In that race, two faster skaters crashed out and the Australian became the slowest of the five qualifiers for the medal race.

In the 10 lap final Bradbury trailed the field as the four favourites tussled for the medals.

We’re coming into the last lap and it’s anybody’s race, except for the Australian who trails by 20 metres. Round the second to last bend it’s neck and neck… just 50 metres to go and the Korean has fallen and taken the Li down too! And the others leaders have also collided 15 metres from the line! … Bradbury medallistBradbury has come through to take an unexpected gold! Sensational!

Steven Bradbury was literally the last man standing and claimed the first Winter Olympics gold medal for a southern hemisphere nation.

After winning his gold medal, Bradbury struggled with conflicting emotions. He finally, sensibly, came to see it as a reward for 12 long years of toil. Harry Gordon, Australian Olympic Committee Historian

The unexpected hero was the toast of Australia. He won the Order of Australia medal, featured on a stamp and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. All because he stayed out of trouble in the Salt Lake City 1000m and watched all of his faster opponents crash out of contention.