Throwback: How an Australian speedskater won the unlikeliest gold medal

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As a nation, Australia has not been renowned for its prowess in speed skating, but Steven Bradbury became something of a national icon with the unlikeliest of gold medals at Salt Lake City 2002.

After a number of injuries over the past eight years put his speed skating career in jeopardy, the 28-year-old Bradbury recovered to qualify for the 2002 Games, where he should have been eliminated in the short track 1000m event at the quarter-final stage, had another competitor ahead of him not been disqualified.

Ranked last in his semifinal race, Bradbury ended up winning the heat when all of his fellow competitors got tangled up and fell, giving the Australian the opportunity to advance to the event final.

That he was even competing in these Olympics at all was a bit of a minor miracle.

At a World Cup event in Montreal in 1994, his right thigh was cut open by another competitor’s skate, slicing through all four of his quadriceps muscles, causing him to lose four liters of blood. He ended up receiving 111 stitches just to fix it.

Then in 2000, he broke his neck when a skater fell in front of him. Bradbury tried to jump clear but landed head first into the barriers and needed pins inserted into his back and chest.

In spite of all that, here he was, two years later, one of five competitors with an opportunity to win Olympic gold. With a little good fortune of course.

““I was the oldest bloke in the field and I knew that, skating four races back to back, I wasn’t going to have any petrol left in the tank,” Bradbury said afterwards.

“So, there was no point in getting there and mixing it up because I was going to be in last place anyway. So, I figured I might as well stay out of the way and be in last place and hope that some people get tangled up.”

And that’s exactly what happened. With Bradbury trailing by a significant 15 meters heading into the final corner, all four racers ahead of him got tangled up with each other and crashed. The last place competitor now had a clear path ahead of him and glided his way down the stretch to the unlikeliest gold medal in speed skating history.

Bradbury retired from skating after the 2002 Games, but the win made him a legend in Australia for years to come. He received his own postage stamp, a Medal of the Order of Australia and even an appearance on the country’s edition of Dancing With the Stars.


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