April 1, 2021

Steven Bradbury – you know, the Australian speed skater who won gold because all of the other skaters fell down – has gotta be one of my favourite athletes for the context that most posts about him don't mention.

Y'see, throughout his career, Bradbury's opponents falling down had basically been his curse. He'd been skating competitively for over a decade, and in that span, he'd been knocked out of contention in major events by opponents either stumbling into him or falling in his path on at least six separate occasions. In some cases, he suffered considerably more damage than simply losing out on a medal; in one incident, a stumbling opponent's skate-blade sliced open an artery in Bradbury's thigh, causing him to lose four litres of blood and spend the next eighteen months in physical therapy; in another, Bradbury tripped over an opponent who'd fallen down in front of him and broke his own neck. Following the latter incident, Bradbury's doctors told him he'd never skate again.

In spite of those warnings, Bradbury would later qualify for the 2002 Winter Olympics, though most commentators – and, by his own admission, Bradbury himself – believed that his age and the lingering effects of his past injuries made it unlikely that he'd win.

On the day of the 1000 meter short track event, it looked like those predictions would bear out. Going into the semi-finals, having made it that far only due to the disqualification of stronger competitors, Bradbury was already exhausted (it was his third event of the day), and he trailed far behind the pack. However, three of his four opponents stumbled on the final lap, allowing him to advance. In the final, Bradbury's opponents fared even worse, becoming entangled in a massive wipeout just fifty meters short of the goal, and Bradbury was able to weave through the resulting pileup and coast to the finish line, capturing Australia's first Winter Olympics gold.

Following the 2002 Olympics, Bradbury immediately retired.