FROM THE BULL | At the 2002 Winter Olympic Games speed skater Steven Bradbury won Australia’s first ever winter gold medal. His path through the heats to the final was aided by competitors being disqualified and others falling over. In the final he was pitted against a crack field of four and he knew he could not match their raw speed. As he had done in the semi final Bradbury chose to hang back behind the leaders and hope they made a mistake. With 50 metres left to race a spectacular collision wiped out the four leaders and Bradbury, 15 metres back in last place, cruised to a remarkable victory. His strategy worked – he was an Olympic champion.
Immediately afterwards Bradbury was besieged by the world media and the most common questions being asked were “do you feel lucky” and “do you think you deserve the gold medal”? Bradbury’s response was that he knew he was not the best skater out there. But in short-track speed skating skaters fall over all the time and you take your opportunities when they arise. It’s the nature of the sport.
So was Bradbury a lucky winner?
No doubt the gods smiled on him that day. But on many other days they hadn’t. Like 18 months before when he broke his neck in a training accident and endured the torture of having a halo brace screwed to his skull via four pins. Or in a World Cup event in 1994 when another skater’s blade sliced through his thigh (from one side to the other) resulting in a 4 litre blood loss in the matter of minutes. He nearly died on the ice.
Or the blood sweat and tears of five hours of training six days a week that Bradbury endured for more than 12 years. Or as a medal contender in BOTH the 1994 and 1998 Olympics where he was impeded by competitors collisions in both of his individual races and failed to make the finals.
Or being forced to live at home with his parents throughout his racing career because the sport receives little funding in Australia and he had no other financial options.
Bradbury prevailed because he was the last man standing. Sometimes that’s all you need to be. But this understates his achievement. Bradbury was battle-hardened, brave and ready to compete. He had faced adversity and disappointment and had put these aside and kept moving forward.
He went to the Olympics (his fourth) at Salt Lake City as an old competitor with nothing to lose. His competitive instincts were still strong and he needed to come up with a plan to give him every chance of success. He knew he didn’t have the legs to lead from the front. He also knew his competitors were under intolerable pressure which would force them to skate to their limits. In this environment, he reasoned, mistakes could be made and he needed to be ready to capitalise if they occurred. He chose to follow the leaders and wait for an opportunity. When his competitors faltered on the final bend he was ready to pounce. His plan worked and he won the biggest race of his life.
Success rarely goes to the biggest, most naturally talented or best looking person. It goes to those that want it bad enough and have a plan to get it. Steven Bradbury did both and against the odds became an Olympic champion. He wasn’t lucky – he was ready.
Are you ready to “do a Bradbury” when the opportunities present themself?