The Story of the Most Surprising Gold Medal: Steven Bradbury | Olympics on the Record


There’s Steven Bradbury,
first on the left, lining up for the final of the men’s 1,000m
speed-skating event at Salt Lake City. He was competing in his first
Olympic men’s final at the age of 30,
a career highlight for a veteran athlete
who had paid his dues in a tough and dangerous sport. Bradbury had been in the speed
skating game for 12 years, travelling the world
representing Australia in numerous international
championships, including three Olympic
Winter Games. Along the way, he had endured
a near-fatal encounter with the sharpened steel
of an opponent’s skates and a high-speed collision
with a wall. Hard knocks, lack of funding,
lack of recognition – it’s tough being an Australian
speed skater. Bradbury is from
tropical Queensland, where young athletes are
not exactly queuing up to take part in winter sports, opportunities being
somewhat limited. “Skating?!
It’s just a waste of good ice!” When Bradbury started out in
the early 1990s, Australians had
yet to trouble the scorers when it came to medals
at the Winter Games. They preferred to pursue other
avenues of individual success. It wasn’t as if Bradbury
had nothing to show for it. Without quite reaching
the pinnacle of his sport, he had already done more than
any individual to advance the cause of speed skating
in Australia. And when Bradbury emerged as a
skater of international class, he inspired a generation
of Australians – well, four to be precise –
to take on the world. At Lillehammer 1994, Bradbury
led his Aussie team-mates – Richard Nizielski, Andrew
Murtha and Kieran Hansen – into unknown territory. The men’s 5,000m relay final. For the first time, Australia were on the medals
board at the Winter Games. First Olympic medal for
Australia at the Olympic Games. And yet Bradbury did not feel
entirely fulfilled. He wanted to compete
with the very best. He wanted to win
an individual medal. And away from the relay, Lillehammer had been a personal
disappointment, as was Nagano 1998… ..and Salt Lake City 2002. Only the 1,000m event remained. Bradbury won his
preliminary heat. He then finished third
in the quarterfinal but got a lucky break
when the second-place finisher was disqualified for
obstruction. Among a stronger field in
the semifinal, our Aussie hero hung
around the back, waiting for a break
and then… ..a miracle. Second place and, for the first
time in his long career, Steven Bradbury had reached
an Olympic final, already the best individual
performance at the Winter Games by an Australian skater. Bring this on. His chances of a medal were still between slim and
none… ..because these were the guys with their eyes
on the top prize. Bradbury had one strategy in
mind – hang in there and hope. Ready to go now and we’ll know
in 90 seconds who gets the coveted gold medal. They’re off at the start now
and just a little bit of jockeying for position. Soo from Korea on the inside, Turcotte from Canada
on the outside. Remember, nobody necessarily
needs to go in front, you want to see what’s
happening with the skaters in front of you. Ohno there looking to move on
the inside, then dropping back. You’ve got basically
a four-man pack now with Bradbury in fifth. Turcotte quite comfortable just
ahead of Li and Li’s got himself
in a good position and again Soo goes on the inside
for the lead. The Korean in the bright
blue and yellow, easy to spot, and it’s Soo now in the lead now
with six laps to go. And then again,
Ohno again on the inside trying to get some position. Looks like he wants
to make a move but he’s sitting now
behind Soo, ahead of Li and Turcotte, Bradbury in fifth
from Australia. Now they’re starting to
stretch out a little bit, the field taking shape… ..and Ohno moving up on the
outside. Soo sees him coming but Ohno, there’s nothing Soo
can do about it. Ohno goes wide and then
cuts back in front. And now Ohno, Li has passed
Soo, Ohno was in second, Soo in third, two laps to go. Bradbury way off the pace and Li is now the challenger
for Ohno. – Li coming up on the outside.
– One down. – And Li has gone down.
– Two down. – Ohno and Soo have collapsed.
– Three down. – They’re all down…
– Four down. ..and Bradbury, who is
in the perfect spot, skates over the line. You beauty! Australia’s first-ever
Winter Olympics gold medal, Steven Bradbury is the
champion. Bradbury was having trouble taking in what had just
happened. But when the result
was upheld by the judges, he stepped forward onto the
podium to hear Advance Australia Fair. Steven Bradbury retired from competitive speed skating
in 2005. His autobiography is called
Last Man Standing.

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