"Hang on, this can't be right - I think I won."
Short track speed skater Steven Bradbury is the first Australian to win a gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games.
Born in Camden (New South Wales, Australia) on 14 October, 1973, Bradbury loved sports as a child. He took up surfing and ice skating at the age of 8, and began competing in the same year.
He first rose to fame in 1991 when he won the 5000m event at the World Championships, which he cited as his greatest sporting achievement (prior to winning his gold medal). His Olympic career commenced the next year at the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville, and at Lillehammer in 1994 he was part of the Relay team that won Australia's first ever Winter Olympic medal - bronze in the 5000m relay speed skating event.
Steven suffered a major setback in 1998, when he was struck in the thigh by a falling skater during the final of the 5000m Short Course Speed Skating event. The collision was so serious that he lost 4 litres of blood and required 111 stitches in his right leg.
After months of physiotherapy, Steven resumed training with the Australian national team, placing 8th in the 5000m Relay at the 1998 Olympics, and 8th at the 1999 World Championships. He was given the honour of carrying the Olympic torch through Brisbane, Australia, in anticipation of the Sydney Olympic Games. But injury struck again during a training session in 2000, when he broke his neck and spent six weeks in a neck brace.
In the lead-up to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games at Salt Lake City, Stephen pioneered a change-over technique for relay teams that helped to cut tenths of seconds from the Australian team's time. This technique was crucial to the team's success during the Olympic qualifying rounds, and helped to propel them into the Olympics for the fourth time in a row. Stephen was named as the leader and anchor leg of the 2002 squad, and was shortlisted to carry the Australian flag into the Opening Ceremony.
But surely, Bradbury's most memorable athletic achievement will be his gold medal at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Steven was skating last during the quarter-final of the 1,000m Short Course Speed Skating event when a crash between two other competitors and a subsequent disqualification gave him a chance to advance to the semi-final. To the amazement of the crowd, a similar collision in the semi-final left few skaters standing: Bradbury became one of only a few Australians to contend in a medal round.
During the final, Bradbury kept to the rear of the competitors and tried to keep steady. "I played the same tactics in the semi-final and final," he said shortly after the event, "which was to stick at the back of the field and wait for the accidents to happen and they did." And how. Chinese skater Li Jiajun attempted to overtake USA skater Apolo Anton Ohno when the two collided. Ohno brought down Korea's Ahn Hyun-soo as he slid across the ice, who in turn tripped Mathieu Turcotte of Canada. All four skaters hit the boundary of the rink, leaving the field clear for Bradbury to skate triumphantly across the finish line.
Bradbury had mixed emotions about the win. "I obviously wasn't the most deserving guy out there on the ice and not the strongest skater in the final, that's for sure. But I've put in heaps of work over the past four Olympics and perhaps something like this is freakish."
Several days after his unconventional win, Bradbury gained a place in the 1500m short track semi-finals "while sitting on the ice and facing the wrong way." He lost his footing shortly before the finish line, and slid into third place.
Off the rink, Bradbury heads a small company that manufactures custom-made skating boots (readers may find it interesting that Bradbury's business partner made Apolo Anton Ohno's skates). Following his Olympic success, he intends to expand his business and keep surfing as often as he can. While he loves his sport, he says that he intends to take a break from the competitive levels while Fate is still smiling at him.