Friday, August 20, 2010

Stephen Bradbury



It always comes as something of a surprise when my body signals that I am no longer a young bull. Mentally I still feel fit and alert but physically dem ole bones let me know that I am now in the old bull category.

The lesson of the old bull and young bull is that of age and wisdom versus youthful strength and exuberance. Hence the story (clean version) that an old bull and a young bull were standing at the top of a hill overlooking a large meadow full of cows. The young bull says excitedly, "Let's run down there and service us a cow!" "No, son", says the old bull, "let's walk down there and service all of them."

Many know the story of Steven Bradbury (1973 - ), the skater who won Australia’ first Winter Olympics gold medal in 2002 when all four skaters he was competing against fell over 50m from the finish line.

He was subsequently dubbed the king of the losers and the phrase “doing a Bradbury” entered the Australian vernacular to mean an accidental win or unexpected or unusual success.

It can be viewed at:

It is, however, unfair that Steven Bradbury should bear this stigma when his victory was a carefully crafted strategy by an old bull against younger bulls.

Firstly, witness his record:

1991: One of the quartet that won the 5,000m relay at the World Championships in Sydney, the first time Australia won a world championship in a winter sport.

1992: Bradbury was selected for the Winter Olympics but was named as a reserve and did not compete in any events.

1994: First Winter Olympics separated from the Summer Olympics, hence only 2 years after the previous Winter games. Bradbury was part of the short track relay team that won Australia's first Winter Olympic medal, a bronze. In the 1994 World Cup in Montreal, another skater's blade sliced through Bradbury's right thigh after a collision. He needed 111 stitches and his leg needed 18 months to recover.

1998: Bradbury competed but was not successful.

2000: In September 2000 broke his neck in a training accident when another skater fell in front of him. Having fractured his C4 and C5 vertebrae, he was put in a halo brace for 6 weeks. He also had four pins inserted in his skull and screws and plates bolted into his back and chest. Told that he would not be able to skate again, Bradbury told them that he wanted to compete in one more Olympics to redeem having crashed in 1994 and 1998. He conceded that he would be past his best in challenging for medals.

2002: Bradbury’s gold medal rests on 3 improbable events. Following is a description of his progress in the games:

- Bradbury won his 1,000m heat convincingly.

- For the quarter final he was matched against the race favourite, Apollo Anton Ohn, and the World Champion, Marc Gagnon. Only two would go through to the next round. Bradbury came third but subsequently Gagnon was disqualified for obstructing another skater, with the result that Bradbury made it the semi-finals.

- Bradbury consulted national coach Ann Zhang about strategy. Bradbury was the second oldest competitor and was required to skate 4 events in the one night. Recognising that he was slower and incapable of outskating the other competitors, Bradbury decided that he would hang back and not challenge his opponents directly, thereby minimising his risk of falling. His reasoning was that the younger racers would be more inclined to risk-taking with the greater likelihood of collision.

- In his semi- final race, Bradbury was in last place when defending champion Kim Dong-Sung of South Korea, multiple Olympic medalist Li Jiajun (China) and Mathieu Turcotte (Canada) crashed. Bradbury took second place and went through to the final.

- In an interview after the race, he said of the final:
“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.”
- In the final, Bradbury was well behind the other 4 competitors: Ohno, Ahn Hyun-Soon, Li and Turcotte. All four were under pressure to win gold and all four strived hard for it. On the final corner, as they jostled for the advantage, all four went over. Bradbury, 15 metres behind, avoided the melee and skated over the finish line, arms held high in victory, joy and amazement.
"Obviously I wasn't the fastest skater. I don't think I'll take the medal as the minute-and-a-half of the race I actually won. I'll take it as the last decade of the hard slog I put in."

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