Sports

When Australia Saw Gold: How Steven Bradbury Surprised a Nation

2002 at Salt Lake City. This was a date which surprised many, as speed skater Steven Bradbury totally defied the odds and won himself a gold medal. Today, the sporting legend has inspired many to follow their dreams, no matter how limited their circumstances.

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Known today as the “last man standing,” Bradbury has not only made his friends and family proud but an entire country. Why? Popular Everything is giving you the scoop on Australia’s history with winter sports, and how Bradbury singlehandedly broke down the country’s reputation through his own abilities.

Talented Beginnings

How did it all begin? Born October 14th, 1973 in Camden, New South Wales, you might say Steven Bradbury was destined to become the skaitng legend he’s known as today.

What many people might not know about this Australian superstar is that his father, John Bradbury was the Speed Skating Champion of Australia. Without this fatherly influence, who knows whether Steven would’ve even given the sport a quick thought, let alone the Winter Olympics!

Winter Sports Down Under

Steven Bradbury grew up in Queensland, northeast Australia. When we think of life down under, we picture endless sun, shrimps on the barbie and surfers riding the waves. I bet you’re now wondering, why on earth did Bradbury and his father get into speed skating, of all sports?

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The Aussie crew barely made a dent in the Olympic Winter Games, and could we blame them? Their super hot living conditions meant that activities such as ice skating simply weren’t the preferred pastime, so why bother competing in it? That all changed once Steven Bradbury came along.

Pursuing His Passions

From a young age, Steven Bradbury was one of a kind. While his friends were soaking up the Australian sun, this Aussie bloke was hitting the ice every week. Determined to stand apart from the rest, Bradbury began putting his skate-skills to the test in the early 1990s.

Given his circumstances, Bradbury was lucky enough to consider himself lucky from very early on. Merely the fact that he was competing in speed skating had set him ahead of any other Australian.

Rallying Up a Team

When you succeed in something, you become somewhat of an inspiration to others. That’s precisely what happened with Steven Bradbury. After becoming an international success, Bradbury inspired three fellow Aussies to join him on his skating quest, can you believe it?

Now, this is iconic! In 1991, pretty much the whole of Australia tuned in to watch their country compete for the first time at the winter games, held in Sydney. Much to their success, Australia won! You heard that correctly, this Aussie quartet won themselves their first (ever) Olympic title for a freezing cold sport. The teenager Bradbury could pat himself on the back for this epic win.

Taking it One Step Further

Let’s go to Lillehammer. In 1994, Bradbury took his high-flying teammates to Norway, to compete in the next series of Winter Olympics, the men’s 5,000 meter relay final, to be precise. Being the champs they previously proved themselves to be, the talented quartet won themselves a shiny new medal.

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This was not any old medal. Achieving the bronze award meant this short-track team had granted Australia their first ever winter Olympic medal, and boy was everyone proud of them!

One Painful Setback

During 2006, Steven Bradbury took part in the men’s 5000-meter relay final. Being such an intense, high-speed sport full of adrenaline-fueled competitors, accidents are sometimes bound to happen in the world of speed skating. Within the match, certain things did not go to plan, and the Australian skate-phenomenon got involved in one horrific injuries.

One minute Bradbury was gliding along the ice, the next he’d found himself landing on the back of another competitors sharp blade. Ouch! Bradbury descibes the incident himself: “A person of my size has five and a half liters of blood and I lost four of them in 60 seconds.” Despite needing stitches, this didn’t put a halt on Bradbury’s dream.

Olympics Round 2

Four years whizzed by, and it was time for the quartet of dreams to compete once again for another coveted Olympic medal. With only three of the original four competing, the stakes were high in this nail-biting game.

Bradbury, Kieran Hansen, and Richard Nizielski took the trip to Nagano, Japan. Here they welcomed newbie, Richard Goerlitz to their team. Unfortunately, the group failed to recreate their Lillehammer success; they finished in the last place out of the eight teams competing.

A Potential Answer

Several people have speculated why Bradbury suffered such a tragic defeat in the 1998 Nagano games. One possible reason for his lack of success could be put down to an upset stomach. Confused? Hear us out on this one.

Immediately before the 1000-meter event, Bradbury was hit with a severe case of food poisoning. Bradbury admits that he “skated but I’d been throwing my guts up for two days and I didn’t even look at the result.” We all have those days, Steve. This star made up for the loss in future games, anyway.

The Dream Got Bigger

There’s no doubt that what happened in Lillehammer was legendary. For the first time, Australia had made a name for itself in an Olympic sport. Sure, Bradbury was proud of what he’d achieved, but he wanted more.

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What more could he want? Individual success. Bradbury knew he was gifted, and he tried to make the world aware of that. He was disappointed with the 1998 loss and wanted to make a comeback in the skating world. His next steps would make a mark on his career forever.

A Bump in the Road

The year 2000 might have been the end for Steven Bradbury. During a training session in Sydney, the skater crashed into a barrier and broke his neck. After the injury, he was told the words every Olympic skater dreads to hear: you will never skate again.

So, was this the end? There’s no way Bradbury was getting off that easy. He was keen to get that Olympic title he’d been dreaming of, so there’s no way some injury was getting in the way of that. Worst case scenario meant he couldn’t take any more chances on the ice, and had to skate with caution from then on.

Personal Growth

Skipping all the way over to 2002, and Bradbury has entered Salt Lake City, Utah for his next shot at the Winter Olympics. What made this time so special? Bradbury was competing as an individual talent, ditching the relay team.

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Bradbury’s last hope remained with the short track 1000-meter event. Finishing at an impressive time of 1:30.956, Bradbury successfully won the preliminary heat. The quarterfinal came around against Apolo Anton Ohno and Marc Gagnon. The Australian talent was devastated to finish third, convincing himself he had just lost his final shot. In a dramatic turn of events, this disappointment didn’t last too long…

A Second Chance

Steven Bradbury was already nervous about racing against the defending world champion and the favorite player from the host nation, so perhaps his nerves got in the way of his performance. With that being said, he needn’t worry much longer, after a shocking discovery was made about one of his fellow racers.

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It must have been fate! When second-place finisher, Gagnon got disqualified for obstruction, Bradbury’s third-place position was overturned, granting the star a one-way ticket to the semifinals. There was still hope, yet! Steven did everything he could to prepare for the race to come.

All in the Tactic

Standing behind the starting line, we’re sure Steven Bradbury was a bag of nerves as he awaited the moment to compete against some of the strongest players he’d ever seen. The semifinals had come around quicker than he expected, and in that moment he prayed his teaching from coach, Ann Zhang would pay off.

What was his tactic? Watching the match play out, you may initially believe the Aussie did not have the speed to compete against these champions properly, but this was all intentional. Bradbury was taught to take advantage of his slower pace and ‘hang back’ from the bulk of the group, in the hopes that a crash would occur.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Bradbury was taught to hang behind and wait for his big break, and what a good job he did at that! South Korea champion Kim Dong-sung took a fall, as well as Li Jiajun of China, and Mathieu Turcotte of Canada.

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As if by magic, the master plan had worked! Not only had he achieved second place, but Steven Bradbury had got through to an Olympic final, all by himself! We bet the whole of Australia were jumping for joy as they watched this momentous occasion unfold.

Setting the Bar High

Sure, Bradbury had fulfilled a personal goal of his, but it held a national scale, too. This was the best solo performance of any Australian skater, in the history of winter games. That’s one to tell the grandkids, hey Steve!

The next few stages in Steven Bradbury’s life were daunting. He’d got so far, that the possibility of winning a medal became a bigger and bigger dream of his. Despite this, he never forgot how strong his competition was. In other words, he didn’t want to get his hopes too high.

Keeping His Cool

Hmm, this looks a little familiar. Being up against some of the fiercest players in the speed-skating business, Bradbury was well aware of his shortcomings. Steven was the only skater in the race not to have won any previous medals, for his individual efforts. Keen not to take any major risks, he went ahead with the coasting plan once again, riding a safe distance behind the talented group.

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As Steven slowly raced around the track, the words “hang in there and hope” were resonating in his mind over and over again, it was the only chance he had of success. Australians everywhere watched on the edge of their seat, eagerly anticipating whether Bradbury would bring that gold medal home, for the very first time.

History Repeating Itself

This was such an incredible match that those of you who watched in 2002, probably haven’t forgotten about it all these years later. For some time, Bradbury was well behind the speedy bulk, but that was not for long.

With Ohno, South Korea’s Ahn Hyun-Soo, Li and Turcotte fighting back and forth for the first position, tensions began running high. In a moment of courage, the four players amped up their speed, and this resulted in disaster. Just like a game of dominos, Li was down, followed by Ohno, followed again by Soo, and lastly Turcotte. Among the drama, Bradbury glides along to the finishing line.

Australia’s First Winner

The sudden realization of what had just happened hit Bradbury like a ton of bricks. One minute he was slowly coasting behind the leading skate champions of the world, the next he’s bagged himself a first place position.

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This was it. The moment Bradbury had waited for had finally happened. It only really sunk in once the champion stood on that podium, and the audience rejoiced together in Australia’s national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair.” This was by far, the highlight of this 30-year-old Aussie’s life.

The Surprise of the Century

Steven Bradbury’s defeat came as a shock to many, but the person it surprised the most was the modest man himself. Going into the race, Bradbury was warned by his coach that “you’re not as good as these other blokes, just go out there and you’ll probably pick up bronze.”

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Can you believe it? Steven was sure he wasn’t cut out for a first-place medal, a bronze was even a far cry from what he believed he was capable of. Despite this, the Aussie was passionate about speed skating. If nothing else, he felt proud that he had the opportunity to compete in such a prestigious race. Of course, the results “worked out a little better” than anticipated.

Brains Over Strength

What makes this win stand out from all the others was Bradbury’s initiative. He was the first man to outsmart his players, recognizing their aggression and how unlikely he was to beat them physically. He chose to play a tactical race, and the decision paid off.

Not only in Australia, but would you believe Steven Bradbury was the first person in the entire southern-hemisphere to win an Olympic game? Now that’s some title.

His Remarkable Legacy

Today, Bradbury is still commended across the world for his efforts. For several months, the newspapers continued to tell his story. They liken the Aussie to the underdog that never gave up, despite his unfavorable circumstances.

Of course, this win didn’t please everyone. The Americans who were rooting for Apolo Ohno condemned Steven’s lack of merit and looking “like the tortoise behind four hares” in speed skating. If he was a tortoise, he was a talented one that knew how to get to the finish line first!

Becoming a Well Known Phrase

You know you’ve done well in life when your name gets added into common Australian dialect. Today, it is not uncommon for a group of Aussies to liken an unexpected victory to “doing a Bradbury” or even “getting Bradburied.” Take your pick to which one you’d prefer to use!

Back before the skating fame, Bradbury could barely scrape $1,000 together. After the remarkable defeat, the Aussie superstar earned a whopping $20,000, after his image was used on a 45-cent stamp for Australia Post. Talk about a big pay-day!

Putting His Experiences on Paper

Those of you who are hungry to know more will be pleased to know that the confessed “luckiest Olympic gold medalist in history” has decided to share his story with the world, by producing an autobiography of his skating journey.

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Sounds good, right? The name of this autobiography sounds even better. The Australian Olympian named his book “Last Man Standing,” and we can’t help feeling like this name perfectly encapsulates this man’s full story. What a clever guy!

The Story Continues

Where is he now? Steven Bradbury may have retired from speed skating after his epic win back in 2002, but that didn’t mean he had to say goodbye to to Olympics forever.

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The Aussie legend went on to become an official commentator for Australia at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Not only this, but after the skating, Bradbury took on a new role as motivational speaker. Now that’s one talk we’d all like to pay a visit to!