The way Steven Bradbury’s infamous win in the men’s 1000m short track speedskating final at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games of 2002 has been so widely ridiculed betrays his strong record in the sport.
It was less a win for the tortoise against the hare and more a reward for sheer hard work and persistence after a career marred by near-misses and horrific injury.
Bradbury, who was awarded the Order of Australia for his Olympian exploits, was a part of the team that won his country’s first ever Winter Olympic medal in 1994, and eight years later he achieved sporting immortality by winning Australia’s first gold.
At the Lillehammer Games in 1994, a fall by Canada meant Australia were assured of a bronze medal if they stayed on their feet. They did so and Bradbury created his first bit of history with a maiden Winter Games medal for Australia.
Later that year at an event in Montreal, Bradbury suffered a cut to his thigh when another skater’s blade hit him and caused a laceration. A back injury caused by a training spill again threatened his career in 2000 but he showed the spirit needed to overcome this and reach the top.
The circumstances of the 2002 final at the Salt Lake Ice Center are well documented.
In earlier rounds Bradbury’s tactic of maintaining a safe distance behind the tussling leaders had paid dividends with qualifying runs in the quarter-finals and semis when more favoured skaters crashed to defeat.
Coming into the five-man final, Bradbury was the rank outsider and as the race progressed his chances looked slimmer with each passing lap.
American Apolo Anton Ohno led from the start, forging powerfully to the front of the field ahead of three rivals as Bradbury maintained his watching brief some yards behind the leading pack.
As the leading quartet rounded the final bend, Lia Jiajun of China tried an over-ambitious overtaking manoeuvre outside Ohno, sending them both onto the ice and bringing down Canada’s Mathieu Turcotte and Korea’s Ahn Hyun-soo in the process.
The melee of arms, legs and skates left the way clear for a nonplussed Bradbury to cross the line unchallenged and claim the most unexpected of gold medals.
Ohno scrambled up to slide over the line for the silver while Turcotte took the bronze.
Bradbury will not go down as the greatest skater of his time but few could question that he showed the commitment and determination worthy of any Olympic champion.