There is nothing ‘lucky’ about the success of four-time Olympian Steve Bradbury, writes Greg Cary.
Steve Bradbury is without doubt one of our finest Olympians- summer or winter. In every sense of what that word means. Olympian: to reach the highest level of your chosen sport in the world; to handle yourself with dignity in both victory and defeat; to give all you have and to never give up.
As we rejoiced in the talent and the crazy/brave manoeuvres from Sochi there were the occasional and anticipated references to Steve’s “lucky” Gold medal in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Rarely has an athlete’s achievements been so little understood and poorly defined as the result, ironically, of their greatest triumph. But it is that victory that needs to be re-visited so that all those tempted to make Steve Bradbury “jokes” next time a Winter Olympics comes around might think twice. We’ll get to that “lucky” win in a moment but first some background:
Bradbury is a four-time Olympian- nothing lucky about that. Rather, it speaks volumes of his talent and dedication. Like all athletes he had experienced his fair share of luck – both good and bad. In 1994 in Norway he was part of the relay team that won Australia’s first Winter Olympics medal. He was then favourite to win the 1000 metres, winning the quarter final before being knocked over (literally) in the semi. How many spoke then of his bad luck? Fact is, hardly anyone had heard his name. We were too busy enjoying Cool Runnings, a lovely story but far less inspiring than Steve’s.
Now factor in his 1994 accident in Montreal at the World Cup. An opponent’s skate sliced through his thigh, cutting his quadriceps and causing him to lose four pints of blood. A total of 111 stitches stemmed the flow – but not his spirit.
That he even competed in the Japan Olympics of 1998 was amazing. Again he was favourite, again he was knocked over. Starting to get the message about him being “lucky”? Whilst training in 2000 he crashed and broke his neck in two places. As is the stuff of these legends doctors told him his career was over and the screws and plates in his head, neck and back would seem to confirm that view. Steve had other plans. He knew, though, as he headed for the games of 2002 that his best days were surely behind him and that the brain would need to play a bigger role than the legs.
I wrote recently about Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book- David and Goliath. Goliath, misunderstood David’s strength just as Steve’s opponents did his. The race does not always go to the fastest. Tactics, character, experience and temperament are all equal members of the same equation. Steve knew that going into his final. He and his coach realised they could not compete on speed so decided instead to stay out of trouble and hope for chaos up front. It happens often in speed skating – and did again – leaving Steve last man standing.
It is such a pity that this has become the entrenched understanding of Steven Bradbury’s gold medal. Steve, modest as always, said the medal was more a reward for 10 years of hard work. At one level he is right. At another, however, he is underestimating (as so many others have) one of the truly outstanding moments in sport.