Bradbury and Hansen reflect on historic medal ahead of Lillehammer 2016
In February 1994, Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras had just won the Australian Open titles, Alan Border was winding up as Australian cricket captain and Australia won its first winter Olympic medal.
As most Australians were enjoying the summer at barbeques and swimming, 27 athletes were on the other side of the world surrounded by snow, representing the nation at the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Now in 2016, Lillehammer is ready to host the second winter Youth Olympic Games, starting on Friday, in many of the same venues that were used in 1994. With 17 young Australians aged 15-17 set to compete across eight disciplines.
Internationally the 1994 Games are remembered as being a great success in the Nordic heartland, with the host nation winning the most medals at what was the coldest Games on record, with the warmest day reported as being -20.
For Australian sport it was the moment where five mates turned years of hard work, battling illness and injury, to be the first Australians to stand on an Olympic winter podium after 58 years of trying.
Richard Nizielski, Andrew Murtha, Kieran Hansen and Steven Bradbury raced to the elusive medal, winning bronze in the 5000m relay, with reserve John Kah a key team member.
“It was unbelievable, a dream come true,” Hansen a three-time Olympian recalled.
“There was a friendly rivalry with aerial skier Kristi Marshall (flag bearer) to see who could win Australia’s first medal, and we were pretty happy to get the job done.”
The men competed late in the second week, in Hamar, and the pressure was being felt by athletes and staff as this was Australia’s last medal chance for another four years.
The five skaters had won bronze at the 1993 World Championships in Beijing and after years of being so competitive they didn’t let the Olympic podium, they wanted the most, slide by.
Remarkably the bronze medal in the 5000m relay started a podium streak that has continued since. And Bradbury would become Australia’s first gold medallist at his fourth Games in 2002.
Bradbury reminisces on that moment where the hard work and strong team bond came to fruition in Lillehammer.
“It took a long time for the five of us to get to that point,” Bradbury said. “We crashed at the Albertville Games (1992) when we were World Champions (1991) so this was the chance for us to make up for that."
“We felt we were a better team than bronze, but we knew we had created history and it was amazing to win Australia’s first winter Olympic medal."
“When we came home we had media chasing us for a few weeks and people recognised us and started to understand what short track was about. We had started to put Australia on the map for winter sports.”
Bradbury was the youngest member of the men’s short track relay squad and it was the bond of the Team that he says was their biggest strength.
“We were the best of mates and always a team of five,” Bradbury recalls fondly. “There was really only five competitive skaters in the whole of Australia but we pushed each other and worked so hard together that after all those world cup medals we knew we had to get an Olympic medal.
“John Kah unfortunately missed skating at the Games and getting a medal but he was as much a part of the Team and that medal as anyone.”
Despite the world title, world cup medals and Olympic bronze in Lillehammer, it wasn’t until the gold from Salt Lake City that non-winter sports fan knew who Bradbury was.
Ian Chesterman is the link between the 1994 and 2016 Australian Teams. Back in 1994 he was a young deputy Chef de Mission of the Team and this year he will guide Australia’s next crop of stars (who were not born at the first Lillehammer Games) to ensure they have a wonderful educational experience on and off the field of play.
“Lillehammer holds a special place in my heart because it was my first with an Australian Olympic Team,” Chesterman said.
“It was a great thrill when we got the monkey off our back and Australia finally won a winter Olympic medal, when our short track team claimed the bronze. It was certainly a massive moment in Australian Winter Olympic history.”
Melbourne skater Julia Moore, who has idolised Bradbury throughout her short career, has been selected to represent Australia at Lillehammer 2016 for short track speed skating and race in that same famous venue.
“I have really looked up to Steven Bradbury,” Moore, who has met him on a few occasions, said.
“I have read his book quite a few times. It has encouraged me to train hard and I have used it for motivation when I needed to tough it out. He is just an ordinary guy who won Olympic gold!”
The Opening Ceremony at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games will commence exactly 22 years and 2 hours on from those historic Games at the same ski jump arena.
It would be fitting for the podium streak to continue here but for Chesterman and the Australian Olympic Committee the priority is to help 17 young Australians compete to their potential, become ambassadors for Olympism and inspire more young Australians to chase their Olympic dreams.