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Throwback: When Bradbury profited from Salt Lake City pile-up to land first Australian gold

16 Feb 2002:  Steven Bradbury #300 of Australia celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 1000m speed skating final during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bradbury was the first to cross the finish line after the rest of the competitors collided on the last lap.  DIGITAL IMAGE.  Mandatory Credit:   Clive Mason/Getty Images

February 16, 2002

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.

It was a minor miracle that short track skater Bradbury was even still competing on the ice at the time after a horror incident at a World Cup event in Montreal eight years earlier.

After a collision, his right thigh was cut open by another competitors’ skates, slicing through all four of his quadriceps muscles and leading to him losing four litres of blood. He had to have 111 stitches on the surgeon’s table.

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, needing pins inserted in his back and chest.

He was told he would never skate again but qualified for the 2002 Games, only to be knocked out of the short track 1000m event at the quarter-final stage. But a disqualification of another competitor saw him reinstated.

Ranked last in his semi-final, the rest of the field fell and he sauntered through to win the race.

In one of the more fortuitous of all Olympic stories, history repeated itself come the final on February 16 when the four skaters in front of him all crashed out on the final corner as they hustled their way to gold.

“I figured I might as well stay out of the way and be in last place and hope that some people get tangled up.”

It left the way clear for Bradbury, at that stage a gargantuan 15 metres back, to disbelievingly cross the line in first place.

He was the first Australian in history to become an Olympic Winter Games champion.

Of his tactics for a calamitous final for the rest of those involved, Bradbury said: “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.

“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.”


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