Sport Winter Olympics 2018 Steven Bradbury: What you don’t know about my 2002 gold medal
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Steven Bradbury: What you don’t know about my 2002 gold medal

Bradbury is now a popular corporate speaker. Photo: Getty
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In the moments after my famous victory, I didn’t think it was going to stand.

My short-track speed skating triumph at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City changed my life forever and was an incredible way to finish a career that lasted 20 years.

But I honestly expected the race to be re-run.

I skated the best I ever have in the quarter-final, which didn’t get much time on TV. But I had a different strategy in the final, where I was hoping for a mistake that might help me pick up a bronze medal.

Approaching the final corner, I saw China’s Li Jiajun go down. That helped me to fourth and led to another tangle and, all of a sudden, everyone bar me had hit the deck.

I knew I only needed to glide – not skate – and I would cross the line first. But would it count?

Everyone remembers my celebration, where I raised my arms, but I was really confused in that moment, unsure to celebrate or not.

The judges had to decide on the result and after the 16,500-strong crowd stopped booing, because American Apolo Ohno was one of the skaters to go down, a dull hum went over the stadium.

This lasted for what felt like an eternity, but it was probably only three or four minutes.

Nobody knew what was going on in that period and a lot of people thought we would be racing again in a few minutes. That’s what I was thinking, too.

But as the pile-up occurred so close to the finish line, the judges were in the middle of the rink determining that there were no grounds for a replay.

All of the other skaters had gotten off the ice and I thought that if I won, there was no way I was going to parade around in the Australian flag and do a victory lap, so I followed suit.

And it was then that I saw the result come up on the big screen. I was a gold medallist.

I knew it was a big moment, but it didn’t fully hit me until after the medal ceremony, at the media conference.

The media room was absolutely packed and there was even a television crew from Pakistan in there.

It was quite daunting for a bloke from Brisbane who nobody had given a s–t about for the past 20 years.

I knew I would be asked if I felt like I deserved to win, so I had already mapped out the answer in my head.

I told the press I was not accepting the gold for the 90 seconds of the race, but for the 14 years of training I had done to get there.

Steven Bradbury
Bradbury was awarded an Order of Australia in 2007. Photo: Getty

I would have much preferred to win gold when I was the favourite at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer but I was knocked out in the first round.

The guy who knocked me out was later disqualified.

I sat on the ice thinking it was bulls–t, but there was no time to sulk because we had a relay – where we won Australia’s first Winter Olympics medal.

I struggled initially with the fallout.

I kept wondering what everyone else, particularly those in the speed skating community, would think of my success.

And how would the world react to the luckiest Olympic gold medallist in history?

But I had to remember that I had survived some major accidents on the ice and had trained five hours a day, six days a week for 14 years. I had paid my dues.

Prior to that, I was living in anonymity and on a shoestring.

I retired from competitive skating after that 2002 race, but a lot of doors opened from that moment and I now travel around the world as a speaker, be it at conferences or functions.

A lot of people ask me if it bothers me that, to many, my life is defined by that one moment of luck.

It doesn’t. People wouldn’t know me without it. And a lot of people realise you don’t just turn up in an Olympic final if you started a few months ago.

As for this year’s Games, I’m pleased to say we have a medal contender in almost every sport. Our best is Britteny Cox in the women’s moguls, but there’s a host of other gold medal chances.

Australia is no longer a numbers filler at the Winter Olympics.

 

In 1994, Steven Bradbury was part of the short-track speed skating relay team that won Australia’s first Winter Olympics medal. And in 2002, he became Australia’s first gold medallist at the Winter Games. He will write for The New Daily during Pyeongchang 2018.

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