Olympic Stories

Steven Bradbury Making the Best of an Opportunity

Steven Bradbury  Making the Best of an Opportunity

The biggest thrill for sports fans during the Olympics is that the entire world gets to watch the best athletes from every country compete on an equal playing field. For an actual Olympic athlete, however, this can sometimes be dreadful rather than exciting.

Take Steven Bradbury of Australia for example. In the 2002 Winter Games, he was running his short track speed skating 1000m with favorite Apolo Ohno from America, and defending world champion Marc Gagnon of Canada. While it was exciting for the world to watch, it was terrifying for Bradbury. But making the best of a chance opportunity, Steven shocked the world with his race.

Steven Bradbury

Born October 14, 1973 in Camden, Sydney, Australia, Steven John Bradbury is a former short track speed skater who went to the Olympics 4 separate times in hopes of winning a gold medal. Bradbury was quite the athlete as a child, and he came up through the championship circuit and easily made Australia’s national team while still a teenager.

He was only 19 when he competed in his first Olympic Games in 1992, fresh off of a World Championships win in Sydney in 1991. Although he was part of a team here and not a great singles competitor, it was his leg of the 5000m relay that helped the Aussies win bronze at Lillehammer in 1994.

How the Stars Aligned for Bradbury

Entering the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Steven Bradbury’s entire Olympic career had only produced a bronze medal, and a team medal at that. In 1998, Bradbury developed a reputation of a wrecking ball. He had also crashed individually in Lillehammer, but Nagano upped the ante on disaster. It seemed that whether a qualifying round or a final, Steven would find a way to hit someone, somewhere, and ultimately miss out on his chances to medal.

His team had failed to win anything in Nagano in 1998, and Bradbury’s individual runs were even worse. Still considered a good speed skater, he simply couldn’t stay clear of accidents. In September of 2000, he was involved in a terrible accident in a match, where Steven tried to jump a fallen opponent but instead clipped him and crashed through the track’s barriers headfirst. He had to have pins attached to his skull and wear a halo brace due to breaking his C4 and C5 vertebra, and it was doubtful whether Bradbury would ever race again.

Crashing in ’94 and ’98 in the Olympics, and continuing that trend heading toward the ’02 Games, Bradbury badly wanted to change both his luck and his reputation as a reckless racer. In the Salt Lake City Games, it would take a series of strange events to catapult Bradbury to the top, but fans of the Olympics know that great stories happen with every event.

Although Steven won his 1000m qualifying heat with room to spare, he was unfortunately pitted against defending world champion Marc Gagnon and perhaps the greatest speed skater ever, the USA’s Apolo Ohno, in the semis. Only the top 2 racers from each heat would qualify, so Bradbury would have to defeat one of these men to make it to the final. As expected, Steven lost to the two impeccable skaters and his dreams seemed dashed again.

However, Gagnon was disqualified for obstructing another racer, and having finished in 3rd place, Bradbury was the man to take his spot. Steven’s coach told him to stay behind the pack in this race, attempting to avoid the thick of the field. This way, if any crashes were to occur, Bradbury might actually be able to avoid him.

That was some great feat of foreshadowing from his coach, because in the last turn of the 1000m final, the entire field was involved in a massive pileup, with only Bradbury, who was trailing behind, avoiding the accident. Missing the pack allowed Steven to finally earn his Olympic Gold Medal, defeating Apolo Ohno and other great competitors in the process.

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