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Australia’s Steven Bradbury arrived in Salt Lake City as a relatively unheralded athlete, but left as one of the Games’ stars. Certainly, his victory in the men’s 1,000m short track can claim to be the most replayed gold of these Games, as it combined a massive upset with the unbridled astonishment and joy on the part of the winner.
Bradbury was quite fortunate even to be still competing in short track speed skating. Eight years earlier, aged 20, he had sliced his leg open in a skating accident that led to him losing a huge amount of blood and needing more than 100 stitches in his leg.
Then, in 2000, he had suffered another horrible injury, this time during a practice run when he broke two vertebrae in his neck. It was a painful and difficult injury which required a long rehabilitation programme. Bradbury, though, battled back, determined to make the start-line in Salt Lake City.
He had plenty of Olympic experience, having competed at the previous three editions of the Winter Games, but he had never placed higher than eighth and came to Salt Lake City with suitably modest expectations. His strategy was to stay clear of trouble and hope for the best… and it proved to be an absolute masterstroke.
In his quarter-final, two skaters in front of him fell, giving the Australian a path into the semi-final. Surrounded once more by people who were faster than him, he again opted to play it safe and hope for the best – and once more it paid off. This time two rivals fell and another was disqualified as Bradbury somehow earned the last place in the final.
As expected, the American favourite Apolo Ohno went into the lead, with the rest of the pack close behind and Bradbury watching from a distance. As the race entered its final few moments, China's Li Jiajun tried to pass Ohno on the outside of the final turn, but overbalanced and grabbed the leader.
Their skates touched and Li spun off the track, while Ohno slid into the Republic of Korea's Ahn Hyun-soo. Both men fell to the ice, taking Canada's Mathieu Turcotte down as they went.
Bradbury had watched this extraordinary pile-up and knew exactly what it meant – the luck that had come his way in both the quarter-final and semi-final had followed him into the biggest race of his life. Looking simultaneously delighted and bemused, he cruised across the finishing line to take victory and Australia's first ever gold at the Winter Games.