The Greatest Underdog to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

In my previous article on scheduling and qualifying rounds, I was trying to think of an extraordinary example of someone qualifying through the rounds, squeezing in by a hair, and eventually succeed.

Since this blog is called speed endurance, the primary focus is on running, specifically the sprints. However, the winner of this award goes out to a speedskater. (TRIVIA: Did you know Irina Privalova, the Russian sprinter, was formerly a speedskater?)

Steven Bradbury of Australia is most well-known for his unexpected gold medal at the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games in the men’s short track 1000 metres event, due to three unlikely events occurring. The stars and moons have to line up correctly in order for this to happen, but it did.

  • After the Quarter-Finals, Bradbury thought he was eliminated. He finished third as only the top two advance, but Marc Gagnon of Canada was disqualified, allowing him to advance to the semi-finals.

  • In his semi-final, Bradbury was in last place but three of the four other competitors in front of him crashed into each other, allowing him to take second place, and advancing him through to the final.

  • In the finals, as in the semi-final and off the pace with the leaders, once again all four of Bradbury’s competitors, Apolo Ohno (USA), Ahn Hyun-Soo (South Korea), Li Jiajun (China) and Mathieu Turcotte (Canada), crashed at the final corner, leaving a shocked Bradbury to take the gold medal, at the time the first for Australia (or any southern hemisphere country for that matter) in an Olympic Winter Games event. Alisa Camplin also won gold for Australia at the same Olympics.

Never Give Up?

This was my favorite moment of the Olympics, next to the Canada-USA Hockey Final, of course!

In an interview after winning his gold, he said:

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.

It’s amazing how we forget the decades of training and commitment in order to run or skate for less than 45 or 90 seconds! Plus, don’t forget your support staff!

In any case, a Gold is a Gold, except in Marion Jones’ case. That’s another story.

So what’s the lesson for this true and remarkable story?

Never Give Up!

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
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